Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said a US-funded facility at Ream Naval Base was demolished to make way for development.
His statement came after the Washington DC-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released an image showing the absence of the building at the complex.
The building was funded by the US in 2012 and demolished between September 5 and 10, said the CSIS. It was one of several facilities funded by the US on the base. The think tank said the building is reportedly being relocated after Cambodia struck a secret deal to grant China access to Ream.
In July last year, an unidentified US official said Cambodia had signed a secret deal to allow the Chinese military to control the Ream Naval Base.
Media reported the official saying the deal would allow the Chinese military to host the Ream base for 30 years and allow its military to station troops, stock weapons and dock warships.
In addition to releasing the image, CSIS cited The Wall Street Journal, which claimed that Cambodia last year rejected US funding to repair a building at the same location.
Minister of National Defence Tea Banh told The Post on Sunday the building was the tactical command headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security. It is being relocated to Koh Preap, 29km away.
Banh said CSIS is making more of the situation than it deserves.
“In our sovereign sphere we have the right to put it in a place that is more proper,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters on Saturday that the US didn’t construct the building but had made repairs to an old one. He described the reaction as the “nature of the superpower”.
Cambodia denied the allegations.
“The US allegedly said the Ream port is built for China. So, Cambodia seems to not have the right to develop it to defend its homeland. They alleged that [we] give it to this person or that person,” Banh said.
US Embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier told The Post via email on Sunday that the embassy had seen credible reports that a US-funded maritime security facility at Ream Naval base built in 2012 and upgraded in recent years to help the country protect its coastal waters, has been at least partially demolished.
However, he referred questions to the Cambodian Army about what he called a “worrisome development”.
“We remain consistent in urging Cambodia to take all measures to protect its sovereignty and not allow any single country to have exclusive use of military facilities within its borders. Facilitating access to Ream for all of Cambodia’s partners, as Prime Minister Hun Sen has stated, with none having an exclusive or permanent presence, would be in line with the country’s Constitution and avoid eroding regional stability,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said when he met with Cambodian people in Switzerland in July last year that Cambodia’s Constitution doesn’t allow for a foreign troop presence in Cambodia.
“I state solemnly that Chinese [troops] or troops of any countries will not be present in Cambodia,” he said.