Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the deployment of 500 soldiers with 200 anti-aircraft weapons systems to the northeastern provinces. The move follows a reported increase in illegal drone flights from neighbouring Vietnam by alleged insurgents.

In his June 27 audio message addressed to Minister of National Defence Tea Banh, Hun Sen said the flights are suspected to be the work of an “insurgent ethnic group” in Vietnam, in the wake of a shooting incident two weeks ago. Vietnamese authorities have confirmed that the drones are not being flown by them.

“The units under the command of General Hing Bun Heang must be reinforced right away. I have ordered the dispatch of 500 additional soldiers and 200 anti-aircraft weapons systems. We will not tolerate anyone who violates Cambodia’s territory,” he said, referring to his Bodyguard Unit chief.

It was reported that at least nine people were killed in two attacks on government offices on June 11 in Vietnam’s Cu Kuin district of Dak Lak province.

Hun Sen also ordered that Tea Banh, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen, Bun Heang and all security forces stationed in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, along with local authorities in neighbouring Kratie, remain on high alert.

“Many drones have been flown into areas of Ratanakkiri province. We asked the Vietnamese authorities for an explanation, and they denied that the drones belonged to them,” he said.

“I have concluded that these drones belong to the insurgents who launched the recent attacks on Vietnamese soil. There are now some signs that some of their soldiers were routed and have fled to Cambodian territory,” he added.

The response is a result of Cambodia-Vietnam cooperation to prevent anti-Vietnamese government soldiers from taking refuge in the Kingdom.

The central lowlands of Vietnam are home to several ethnic minorities, some of whom are reportedly unhappy with the Vietnamese government, especially regarding land and rights issues.

Hun Sen, in a subsequent audio message, called on people living in the provinces to which the troops would deploy not to be concerned about a war breaking out. The provinces include Kratie, Tbong Khmum, Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri.

He regarded the flights as terrorist acts and an invasion of the Kingdom’s territory, and commanded all available forces to concentrate on finding and arresting the perpetrators.

Armored vehicles prepare to leave Takhmao headquarters for the northeastern borders on June 27. TVK

He also urged any country that provided a base for the drone flights to halt their support for terrorist actions against the sovereign state of Cambodia.

“I appeal to the neighbouring countries that are providing a base for these drones to stop doing so immediately. You must respect our sovereignty. We wish only for peace, and no other outcome. To my people, please remain calm,” he said.

He called on the public to report the discovery of any drones to the authorities.

Tea Banh said on June 27 that all relevant state institutions, especially specialised RCAF units, are ready to follow the premier’s orders.

“Our troops were quick to draw up plans to follow out his orders. We have already completed several of our preparations,” he said.

Bun Heang also announced on June 27 that his unit had been dispatched to the northeastern provinces and were ready to down any drones or unmanned aircraft they detected.

“Many kinds of drones have flown over Cambodia’s sovereign territory. We are unaware of their intentions, but as long as they fly into our airspace, we will shoot them down. We have direct orders to bring them down, so we will not hesitate,” he added.

“It is vital to defend our national sovereignty, so we must prevent intelligence gathering by reconnaissance drones,” he explained.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Hun Sen’s orders are of prime importance because national security issues are vital.

“Cambodia needs to defend against any violation of its sovereignty by air, water or land,” he stated.

“The prime minister has clarified that the Vietnamese government has said these drones don’t belong to them. Regardless, Cambodia has a legitimate right to object to the violation of its sovereignty in any form,” he added.

He continued that Cambodia had always respected the sovereignty of neighbouring countries, and that the act of flying the drones into the Kingdom was a brazen act.

Hun Sen said he had ordered deputy National Police chief Lieutenant General Chhay Sinarith to coordinate security along the Cambodian and Vietnamese borders.