Official Says Owner of Military Drone Found Near UDG Site Still Unknown

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A fixed-wing drone discovered in Koh Kong province on January 16, 2020, in this photograph posted to Information Minister Khieu Kanharith’s Facebook page.

The owner of a Chinese-made military drone found in Koh Kong province earlier this month about 7 km from a controversial Chinese development project has yet to be identified by authorities, a Cambodian Air Force spokesman said on Tuesday.

“So far there is no one who has claimed ownership of this drone but we know that it is the product of China,” spokesman Prak Sokha told VOD.

“We cannot make any conclusions about from where it was flown,” he said, adding that the drone’s owner also remained unidentified. “We don’t know clearly so just wait for the committee to investigate.”

Sokha said a Defense Ministry committee had been tasked to inspect the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, but he did not know when the inspection would happen.

The official had earlier told VOD that the drone was a Chinese-manufactured Cai Hong-92A (CH-92A), a mid-size reconnaissance drone that is capable of being armed, although drone experts who reviewed photographs of the UAV said it showed no signs of carrying weapons.

It was discovered by locals in Kiri Sakor district and reported to authorities on the evening of January 16.

Drone researchers have said there were no public records of the CH-92A model being sold in the region and Cambodia is not known to have its own drones.

The UAV was found some 7 km from a land concession held by Chinese company Union Development Group (UDG), which is developing a $3.8-billion resort that has been the focus of controversy in recent years.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence raised concerns in 2018 that China was developing a naval base inside Cambodia, while anonymously sourced media reports pointed to the 45,000-hectare Koh Kong development as the possible site.

Cambodian officials have repeatedly denied that the government would allow a Chinese base within its territory.

Sokha, the Air Force official, said the disassembled drone was still being kept at Air Force Command headquarters in Phnom Penh while awaiting inspection by Defense Ministry officials.

He denied any local media reports claiming that the drone was a different model than the CH-92A. On Friday, the Khmer Times newspaper reported that the drone was a BZK-005 Chang Ying in an article that cited anonymous sources and did not include an author’s name.

On Tuesday, Sokha suggested that the drone could have been flown from overseas.

However, Kelvin Wong, the unmanned systems editor at Jane’s International Defence Review, earlier told VOD that the model’s limited control range suggested that the drone was likely launched from within Cambodia. 

Both the U.S. and Thai governments said they had no links to the drone.

“We don’t have such drones and have no further information,” Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said in a message on Tuesday.

U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg said in an email on Monday that the drone found in Koh Kong “has no connection to the United States.”

She referred questions about the drone’s origins and purpose to Cambodian authorities.

Koh Kong provincial police chief Samkhit Vien said he had not received any reports about the drone, which was under investigation by the Defense Ministry to which he referred questions.

Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.

The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh and Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also did not reply to emailed questions.

A woman who answered a reporter’s phone call to a number for UDG, which was listed on the Commerce Ministry’s online business registry, and who confirmed it was UDG’s number, said managers were “outside.”

The company has not replied to emailed requests for comment, but Sokha said UDG has told authorities that the drone does not belong to them.

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