Saturday, December 15, 2007

US Navy to increase port visits to Cambodia

USS Essex Sailors, Marines Build Friendships in Cambodia

Jim Garamone - American Forces Press Service

The visit of the USS Essex to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Nov. 26 to Dec. 4 is a concrete example of the importance of military-to-military ties between countries.

The Essex and the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was part of a “friendship-building event” with the Kingdom of Cambodia, said Chief Petty Officer Tyler A. Swartz, the public affairs officer for the effort.

The 2,400 sailors and Marines learned about Cambodian history and trained with members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Cambodia is a desperately poor country struggling to recover from war and genocide. It was a battleground in the latter stages of the Vietnam War, and in the 1970s the Khmer Rouge ruled the nation. During the regime of Pol Pot, between 1.7 million and 3 million Cambodians died, including hundreds of thousands of people who were executed. The era brought the term “Killing Fields” into the world’s vocabulary.

The government is now a constitutional monarchy and is working to be a full member of the community of nations. Cambodia is working with other nations on counterterrorism initiatives and overcoming transnational problems, such as the flow of narcotics and crime.

But the government is weak, and government control in many areas of the country is tenuous, DoD officials said. The United States military wants to work with the Cambodian armed forces to help them face the challenges in their country.

The Essex visit is the latest U.S. Defense Department effort to reach out to the Cambodians. During the port visit, Essex medical personnel working with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and non-governmental organizations were able to see more than 5,000 patients at Kulen and Kampong Cham, Swartz said. Medical and dental services in Cambodia included eye surgery, dispensing drugs, pulling teeth and oral hygiene education.

During the port visit, sailors and Marines engaged, taught and attended classes at the Cambodian National Defense University. Marines provided anti-terrorism training for Cambodia's national counterterrorism task force, Swartz said. The training enhanced the force's ability to conduct sustained counterterrorism training and gave Cambodia capabilities to participate in future military exchange programs.

The Essex crew also distributed several pallets of Project Handclasp material. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items like books, clothes, toys and medical items to agencies and organizations in countries that could benefit from those materials.

The next step is to increase the number of Navy port visits to Cambodia, defense officials said.

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