© 2007 The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia is boosting its navy to help protect newly discovered offshore oil fields that could prove lucrative for the impoverished country, officials said Friday.
As part of the plan, the government recently transferred a brigade of soldiers from the army to the navy, said Yim Sovann, an opposition party lawmaker who heads a parliamentary committee on defense and the interior.
The transferred soldiers are now undergoing training in naval skills, he said.
The move "responds to the routine need to protect maritime borders and, more especially, the offshore oil fields being explored in Cambodia," said Yim Sovann, a lawmaker from the Sam Rainsy Party.
"What we are doing is simply to safeguard environment at sea and maritime borders, prevent terrorist acts and provide security to companies," he said. "We are not going to put up any menacing presence to anyone."
He declined to elaborate on the size of the navy or the hardware involved in the expansion plan, citing military confidentiality.
Defense Minister Tea Banh also said that naval expansion is under way but declined to give any details.
"It is our duty to provide safety for companies doing business in our country," he said.
"You do not wait until problems have already occurred to go out and provide defense," he said. "That is not called defense. It has to be thought out in advance."
In recent years, offshore oil has become a hot topic of debate in Cambodia following the discovery of oil in the country's southwestern seabed by U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp. in 2005.
Although it remains unclear whether the find will be commercially viable, the discovery has prompted hope of a boost to economic growth. It has also brought fears that, if not properly managed, the discovery could further worsen widespread corruption in Cambodia.
A national defense policy paper in 2006 set maritime security as one of the country's strategic priorities.
It said Cambodia's sea border is vulnerable to security threats, including terrorism and transnational crime.
Despite a shortage of resources, it said, the navy is the government's lead agency for offshore operations to protect maritime assets, including "organic and inorganic natural resources of the continental shelf, under the sea and on the sea surface, and other activities leading to exploration and business."