PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN): A total of 604 guns of US origin and manufacture that were no longer serviceable have been destroyed in Cambodia in the course of the past year, in an effort that a US official said was to ensure the safety and livelihoods of Cambodians.
US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy last week visited a US-funded joint project implemented between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation in Kampong Chhnang province.
Following his visit, Murphy tweeted: “I joined our Golden West Humanitarian Foundation partners in Kampong Chhnang to see how the conventional weapons destruction programs funded by the Political-Military Affairs of the US Dept of State ensure the safety and livelihoods of Cambodians.
“It’s good see old weapons taken out of commission!” he added.
US embassy spokeswoman Stephanie Arzate told The Post that the project focused on the reduction of aging stockpiles of small arms light weapons.
She said the project began in April 2022, with the aim to destroy some 35,000 foreign weapons, mostly of Russian and Chinese origin. It also includes 604 US-origin weapons that are unserviceable and approximately 50 years old.
According to Arzate, the 604 US-origin guns accounted for 1.72 per cent of the total stockpile.
“Through this cooperation, all 604 US-origin weapons have been destroyed, in addition to 10,000 non-US-origin weapons since destruction began in April 2022,” she said.
According to the spokeswoman, the US partners with countries around the world to support conventional weapons destruction. The support for Cambodia in such efforts has been ongoing for 30 years, including landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance.
She claimed that the US is “the largest donor” to these activities, having provided more than $190 million since 1993, “which helps advance safety and security for all Cambodians”.
“US support to conventional weapons destruction includes a capacity building program to assist relevant Cambodian authorities to identify and dispose of unserviceable and surplus munitions in its national stockpile,” she said.
The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation has produced and supplied more than 500,000 explosive charges to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) over the years to be distributed across Cambodia to destroy landmines and UXOs.
The US government supports Golden West and other mine-clearance organisations “to address our own war legacy issues in Cambodia and to clean up mines left by other countries and actors”, it said on its website, adding that $9 million was provided to this effort in 2019.
“We strongly support Cambodia’s goal to be mine-free by 2025,” it said.
The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation said their programmes’ “10,000th foreign military weapon destroyed” was reached on December 22, 2022.
“While we are proud to have achieved this extraordinary milestone, there are 20,000 more weapons yet to be destroyed within this cache,” it said, adding that they were working to locate and destroy additional weapons stored across the country.
“Together we are promoting greater security in Cambodia, and across the region, by eliminating the potential for smuggling these weapons, arming criminals and terrorists,” it added.
Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached for more information on the progress of the project.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the destruction of old weapons will not affect the Kingdom’s defence capacity as those old weapons are unusable, but that it is necessary for Cambodia to buy replacements for the military.
“This old arms destruction does not affect Cambodia’s defence sector. I believe the government and the defence ministry will consider choosing which country’s weapons systems will be the foundation for our defence,” he said.
The joint project to destroy the weapons cache came months after the US placed an arms embargo on Cambodia.
In December 2021, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the RCAF to either shelve or destroy all US-made equipment it possessed, just two days after the US imposed an arms embargo against the Kingdom, citing “deepening Chinese military influence in Cambodia [that] undermines and threatens regional security”.
Asked for an update on these sanctions, Arzate referred questions to the US Department of Commerce.
Phea said Cambodia has never bought US weapon systems since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and that the 2021 arms embargo was meaningless.
“Cambodia never bought their weapons systems and they put an arms embargo against us, so it seems arrogant,” he said.
Phea also said that Cambodia had never reportedly rejected military assistance from any country, and that it has a closer military relation with China because the Chinese government is willing to help the Kingdom in terms of the defence sector.
“We have seen Cambodia expanding their military relations with all countries in ASEAN, and others in the region such as South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand,” he added.