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US retaliation will not affect relations: govt

MINISTRY of Defence officials say bilateral military relations with the United States will not be affected by a US decision to suspend a shipment of 200 military lorries as punishment for the government’s deportation of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in December.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the US action affected only a small component of cooperation efforts between the two countries.

“So far, Cambodia’s Ministry of Defence and the US are still continuing bilateral military cooperation and other projects as well, and existing aid is going ahead without any change at all,” he said.

On Thursday, Washington said it was cancelling a shipment of 200 lorries and trailers that were to be supplied through the US Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme, which distributes surplus military supplies to other countries.

The action was intended as retaliation to the deportation of the 20 Uighurs, who fled ethnic riots in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province, in July. The group had applied for political asylum at the UN refugee agency in Phnom Penh and said members would face torture or ill-treatment if returned to China.

Nim Sovath, director general of the Defence Ministry’s General Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs, emphasised that the temporary postponement of the lorry and trailer shipment would not affect Cambodia’s military readiness.

“The postponement of military aid by the US does not affect Cambodia’s military sector and the cooperative relationship between the two countries, as they will continue to cooperate with each other in other sectors, such as fighting terrorism, keeping peace in the region and at sea,” he said.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson said Sunday that the suspension of the lorry shipment would remain in place indefinitely, but ruled out any further punitive actions.

“We have thoroughly reviewed this issue and are not considering additional actions at this time,” he said.

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