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Defense Spending Expected to Rise Into 2012

The $304-million defense and security budget for 2011 was less than Cambodia’s neighbors last year.

Cambodia expects to bump up its military and defense budget next year, an increase that comes amid an ongoing standoff with Thailand over the border near Preah Vihear, officials said Wednesday.

Defense remains a priority sector for spending, garnering $304 million in 2011, when it also saw an increase. Officials say they expect to prioritize health and education spending for 2012.

However, national defense remains a primary concern, with an ongoing border dispute that began in July 2008 and has led to a number of deadly skirmishes over the last three years.

As a result, the government has begun a recruitment drive for 5,000 more soldiers—many of them to replace retiring troops—who will train for three months before they are sent to the northern border.

The 2011 budget totaled $2.4 billion, with the Ministry of Defense—a portion only of defense and security spending—receiving $190 million, the Ministry of Education $223 million, and the Ministry of Health $169 million.

The $304-million defense and security budget for 2011 was less than Cambodia’s neighbors last year. US officials estimate Thailand’s defense spending at $2.41 billion, Vietnam’s at $5.2 billion. Laos spent less, with $212 million.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon declined to comment on the spending increase, saying only it has been “decided.”

“Everything is already prepared,” said Defense Minister Tea Banh. “We divide [the budget] depending on the reality of each year.”

By comparison, last year’s budget for education was $915,000.

Ly Sethik, director of finance for the Ministry of Education, said the budget increase for next year would go toward salaries.

Teachers have long complained of low government salaries, which they say forces them to take other jobs and ask for daily payments from students, marginalizing the poorest of them.

“With economic growth, it’s no problem that the budget is increased,” Ly Sethik said.

Health Ministry officials declined to comment in detail on next year’s budget.

Ly Horn, finance director for the ministry, said he was “not sure” how much an increase would be.