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US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

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A aerial view of the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The Secretariat of the National Committee for Maritime Security

US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R Sherman.

The visit was brief and the embassy has issued a statement claiming that Cambodia military officials refused to grant the defence attaché «full access to the naval base». In the same statement, the US embassy renewed its call for another visit in the earliest opportunity with «full access».

On June 11, The Post wrote to the embassy to inquire about its definition of "full access" to the military base and whether such an access has ever been granted to any non-allied foreign military base – an enquiry to which US embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier responded without elaborating: “We will let our statement stand.”

On the same day, The Post also pressed the embassy for more details on the visit, such as what the defence attaché had or had not seen at the base, but the spokesman did not provide an answer, saying only that he would be "out of the office" until July 15.

From the Cambodian side, General Suon Samnang – deputy director-general of the Ministry of National Defence's General Department of Politics and Foreign Affairs – told The Post that he brought US defense attache Colonel Ferrara to visit Ream Naval Base to have a look at ships and a workshop built with Australian aid.

After that, Colonel Ferrara was brought to see a hospital [building], new location of the frontline command centre of open-sea committee where he suspected Chinese military presence, as he wished to.

“We prepared important locations which he wished to see and to clear up their suspicion, like an alleged Chinese military base," General Samnang said.

Another Cambodian military general, Nem Sowath – defense minister Tea Bahn’s adviser – also expressed his surprise and reaction to the US embassy in Phnom Penh.

He told The Post: “What we saw from the embassy statement is factless and untrue. It’s a big misunderstanding to interpret [our action today] as non-cooperative.”

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, believed that no country could be granted unconditional access to a foreign defense attaché like a prosecutor with a search warrant. There should be a modality of how to clear the issues of alleged Chinese military presence without violating another sovereign country's military secret that is no relevant to the issue of Chinese military presence.

“We don’t have to talk about foreign military attaché as even ordinary people cannot have access to a military base. Our question to the US is that, will the US let ordinary people enter their 800 military bases even outside the US?

“Cambodia already showed a gentle manner to allow the defence attaché to visit the naval base. But as they already know, the military is the heart and soul of a nation’s security,” Phea said.

Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Tea Banh have repeatedly denied the speculation on Chinese military presence, stressing that the Cambodian Constitution does not allow foreign military base in the Kingdom’s territory.

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