If there was any doubt about the present warmth in the often tense relations between the Cambodian and Thai militaries, a recent meeting between the two army bosses made a point of putting it to rest.
With the hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 comprising 10 nations, including China and the U.S., and employing an array of military and civilian officials, Cambodia’s absence from the list of countries helping in the search is not a surprise, a regional defense expert said Tuesday.
The airplane, which was carrying 239 passengers, left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Saturday and was flying over the South China Sea, south of Vietnam’s Ca Mau peninsula, when it disappeared. Its scheduled route would have taken it over Cambodia and Vietnam.
Despite Cambodia’s initial proximity to the search area, which has now expanded considerably, officials here said they had little to offer the rescue efforts, though, last year, the Royal Cambodian Air Force purchased a dozen Chinese-built Z-9 military utility helicopters for the stated purpose of humanitarian operations. The website of Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, which built the helicopters, says they can be used for sea patrol and offshore search and rescue.
Defense Minster Tea Banh said Tuesday that Cambodian assistance to find the plane was simply not required.
“They don’t need our help and we do not have the ability to help them. They have enough resources,” he said, hanging up when asked about a possible role for his fleet of new Z-9 helicopters.
Nhim Vanda, the National Committee for Disaster Management’s first vice chairman, said his organization was extremely limited in its capacity to help with such an operation.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan also said that Cambodia was ready to help in the search efforts if asked, but he said the country was badly in need of “capacity building” and expressed his hope that the Asean Community would respond in the wake of the disaster.
Carlyle Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert and emeritus professor at the Australia Defense Force Academy, said that Cambodia had little to offer the search operation, which now involves armed forces and authorities from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, as well as from China, the U.S. and Australia.
“Cambodia’s non-participation in the regional search efforts stands out because it is one of the littoral states,” Mr. Carlyle said.
“Cambodia’s capacity is much less than other countries and any help would be seen as a token gesture,” he said.
“Also, Cambodia has no real experience cooperating in an operation of this scale, meaning Cambodia could end up becoming a liability,” he said, adding that such strategic collaborations require excellent language and communication skills.
© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.