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Defence minister to meet UDG in China

Minister of Defence General Tea Banh left for a bilateral military-to-military visit to China yesterday, where it was announced that he would pay a visit to the state-owned Union Development Group, which has drawn the ire of land rights campaigners in Cambodia for forced evictions and land grabbing.

According to a statement released by the ministry yesterday, Banh will be in Beijing until Sunday, holding bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquan, and other senior military officials.

Several Royal Cambodian Armed Forces spokesmen either could not be reached or declined to comment on the specifics of Banh’s trip yesterday.

As well as meeting military officials, Banh will visit the head offices of the Union Development Group (UDG), the statement says, without explaining why such a courtesy call is appropriate for Cambodia’s top military brass.

The Chinese firm UDG is embroiled in a years-long dispute with villagers in Koh Kong province, where it is building a multibillion-dollar luxury resort and a hydropower dam.

General Nem Sowath, chief of Banh’s cabinet at the Defence Ministry, declined to comment on the purpose of the visit to UDG.

UDG has repeatedly used soldiers and military police forces to violently evict villagers from their land, the public backlash to which prompted the government to publicly order a halt to the evictions.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy referred questions to the military attache, who could not be reached yesterday.

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