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Journalists invited to tour Ream Naval Base

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Navy personnel walk on a jetty in Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province during a government-organised media tour on Friday. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP

Journalists invited to tour Ream Naval Base

The Ministry of National Defence on Friday invited some 70 national and international journalists to inspect the Ream Naval Base following reports last week of a deal with China to use the facility.

The story was immediately dismissed by Prime Minister Hun Sen as “fabricated news”.

The Wall Street Journal last Sunday reported that Cambodia had signed a secret agreement allowing the Chinese military to use the Kingdom’s Ream Naval Base, in Preah Sihanouk province in the Gulf of Thailand, for 30 years.

The journalists’ visit, including those from Reuters, AP and AFP, was arranged by Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat and government spokesman Phay Siphan, and was aimed at dispelling the reports.

Socheat told journalists during Friday’s visit that allowing them to directly inspect the base was intended to show there were no grounds to the reports.

“Now you, as national and international eyes and ears, have seen that we have nothing to hide. It has been alleged that we have done this and that, but today we have shown the truth, which is clearer than using words,” he said.

Government spokesman Siphan said the visit had “killed the fake news”.

“Cambodia has taken the opportunity to responsibly and transparently show we are not causing divisions in Asean. I believe that this visit has clearly killed the fake news on the spot,” Siphan said.

Ministry of National Defence and Ream Naval Base officials on Friday led journalists on a tour of a US-funded Cambodian navy tactical facility at the site.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat. Naval Base

The Post saw Cambodia-flagged patrol ships at the base but no signs of a foreign presence.

Chhay Sophal, the executive director of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said following the visit that he had seen no signs of a foreign presence at the Ream Naval Base.

“We saw no signs of a foreign naval base there, while the facility seems unfit for major powers like China or the US to use because it is so small. It seems like nothing has changed at the base since I visited it last year,” Sophal said.

He said that the Wall Street Journal may have received its information from an unclear source and carried the story without verification.

Puy Kea, a reporter for Japanese news agency Kyodo News, said China does not need to use a Cambodian naval base.

“Geopolitically, China would want to speedily move its military to the South China Sea. In Cambodia, the strait is very narrow, not benefiting China in moving its military from one place to another,” Kea said.

Socheat denied there were any buildings in the some 100ha Ream Naval Base close to the sea built or managed by a foreign military. He also dismissed reports that the Dara Sakor airport under construction in Koh Kong province could serve a foreign military.

Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the visit had revealed the truth and cleared up allegations fabricated by certain media outlets to accuse Cambodia.

“We saw that the truth was revealed. The visit was open to all those who were suspicious, and we saw in fact that there is nothing abnormal there. The facility has no deep sea waters to allow the docking of large ships.

“It has been revealed that fake and fabricated news was created to find fault with Cambodia,” Phea said.

When contacted on Sunday, US embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg sent The Post earlier comments regarding the reports.

The US continues to promote the peace and prosperity of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), she said.

“We are concerned that a possible Chinese military presence in Cambodia would both threaten regional stability and the position of Asean,” Zeeberg said.

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