Australia Admits Cambodia Postponed Military Cooperation

Cambodia has delayed two of its military cooperation programs with Australia, the Australian Defense Department said Thursday, after it emerged this week that U.S.-backed programs had also been postponed following the July 28 national election.

Dave Gordge, first secretary and deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy, provided a statement Thursday from the Department of Defense in Australia.

“Cambodia has postponed a maritime security workshop (which is currently being rescheduled at Cambodia’s request) and a counter-terrorism training activity,” the statement says. “Other aspects of our defense cooperation program with Cambodia are continuing as normal.”

Mr. Gordge said he could not provide additional information to the statement.

According to the embassy’s website, Australian counterterrorism training provided to Cam­bodia “has included basic training through to advanced skills incorporating fieldcraft, navigation, medical training, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal/Im­provised Explosive Device (EOD/IED) training.”

The website says Australia has also provided English language training to members of the National Counter Terrorism Special Forces, which are led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet.

When first asked on Tuesday—in light of the news of the U.S. programs being delayed—whether Australian military aid programs had been affected, Mr. Gordge did not to mention the two de­layed programs.

“Our Defense Cooperation Pro­gram [DCP] in Cambodia is continuing. We do not usually comment on activities under the DCP,” Mr. Gordge said in an emailed statement.

Lieutenant General Suon Samnang, director of policy and planning at the Defense Ministry’s department of policy and foreign affairs, said that a maritime security training program originally slated for June had been postponed.

“We delayed the maritime security workshop with Australia be­cause we were busy with the election, but it might be renewed in the first or second week of next month,” he said.

Analysts have said Cambodia’s decision to delay some U.S. military aid, including an air force training scheme, was a reaction to alleged U.S. interference in Cambodian affairs.

The delays came after the U.S. State Department called for a transparent investigation into allegations of irregularities at the polls, and after U.S. lawmakers discussed severing aid to Cambodia over problems with the electoral process.

While criticism from the U.S. surrounding the election has drawn Mr. Hun Sen’s ire, with the prime minister daring the superpower to sever aid, Australia has been less forthright.

Back in October, Australia’s Senate tabled a resolution that called on the Cambodian government to “hold free and fair elections in 2013” and—at a time when opposition CNRP president Sam Rainsy was still in exile avoiding a jail term—called for the government to ensure his full participation in the election.

The Australian government is yet to publicly endorse, or condemn, preliminary election results, which have the ruling CPP winning by a reduced majority. But Australia’s minority Greens party has called on the Cambodian government to support calls for an independent investigation into irregularities.

Cambodian officials have downplayed the importance of aid delays and on Wednesday the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokes­man insisted Cambodia-U.S. relations were “normal.”

U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh declined to respond to questions for the second day running Thursday.

© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.