The government has purchased three helicopters from Russia to supply the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
According to state news agency AKP, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the purchase of the Mi-8 AMT helicopters, though it did not give the price of the aircraft.
Prak Sokha, spokesman for the RCAF Air Force, told CamboJA the helicopters were purchased because there are not enough modern aircrafts with large engines to use for air force operation. He declined to comment further.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the helicopters would be used for medicine delivery, among other purposes.
“We bought these helicopters for civil transportation, rescue work, medical work, not military purposes due to actual requirements, and the budget to buy these from the state,” he said.
Thong Solimo, RCAF General Command spokesman, said that on August 12, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Vong Pisen went to visit a vaccination facility for the military at RCAF Air Force and inspected the three Mi-8 AMT helicopters while there.
A senior officer of the RCAF Air Forces who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media said that the helicopters were purchased from Russia this year, though he does not know the cost.
The officer said Russia came to exhibit its helicopters in Cambodia in the past, leading to the sales.
He echoed Siphan’s statements saying they would be used for humanitarian purposes, with the first priority being delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“These helicopters are transporting vaccines to the provinces along the Thai border including Koh Kong, Battambang, Pailin, Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces,” the officer said.
In November 2018, Russia hosted an exhibition of its helicopters the Cambodian Air Force Base in Phnom Penh, which was presided over by Defense Minister Tea Banh.
Pa Chanroeun, president of Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said he didn’t know what factors led to the decision to purchase the helicopters but the key consideration was whether the budget supported such a purpose.
“The government should pay attention to buying or using the national budget to have balance and accountability to guarantee that all expenses are right, that there is no corruption, that there is transparency to use the national budget that provides the people who pay tax to the nation fair and effective [government],” said Chanroeun.
He noted that given how many Cambodians have struggled financially during the pandemic, restoring the economy and helping people should be top priority.
Ny Sokha, president of rights group Adhoc, said that the government should chiefly focus on immediate necessities.
“If we still can not solve the problems of the people’s living, which is a necessity, we should not take the budget to spend on something that is not a necessity” said Sokha.
He said that the government should focus its budget solely on addressing the pandemic and its financial fallout on individuals.
“We knew that in Cambodia, the vaccine is not enough and the government continues to lockdown some areas in Cambodia, so the absolutely necessary problem is the people’s living who have been suffering related to the lockdown problem, losing work and losing business. This is the necessary issue that the government needs to consider and pay attention to,” said Sokha.