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Tea Banh pays US official visit

Tea Banh pays US official visit

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (right) welcomes Cambodian Defence Minister General Tea Banh on Monday at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.


Meeting with the US defence secretary addresses greater military cooperation, though concerns linger about alleged rights violations by Cambodian soldiers.

CAMBODIAN Defence Minister Tea Banh met with US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates at the Pentagon in Washington during an official visit on Monday, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat told the Post on Wednesday.

The agenda included improving military cooperation during humanitarian assistance scenarios and strengthening the capacity of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The discussion also focused on regional security issues and cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

“We expect that the relationship between the RCAF and the US military will move close together after this high-level visit by the Cambodian defence delegation,” Chhum Socheat said.

The US has promised to sponsor Cambodia’s role in defence exercises scheduled for July 2010 and slated to involve more than 2,000 military personnel from countries across the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Tea Banh is expected to arrive back in Cambodia today. The US embassy declined to comment further on the outcome of the meeting pending an official statement due to be released today.

US-Cambodian military relations have come under scrutiny from US congressmen following testimony by Human Rights Watch to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing in Washington earlier this month.

The NGO reported that since 2006 the US has provided training and material assistance totalling approximately US$4.5 million to Cambodian military units such as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, Brigade 70, Special Airborne Brigade 911 and Brigade 31 of the RCAF. Eight congressmen sent a letter last Friday to Gates inquiring about the connection between and US military aid and these units’ alleged human rights abuses, which the Cambodian military denied.

The meeting of the two nations’ defence chiefs comes ahead of a bilateral agreement, due to be signed by the US and Cambodia today, under which the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide Cambodia with US$7.79 million to help stimulate broader economic growth.

The additional funding will finance an expansion of USAID’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises 2 and Business Enabling Environment programme, aimed at alleviating rural poverty by making family-owned businesses more productive, the organisation said in a statement released to the media on Tuesday. USAID expects to commit a total of $61.8 million in assistance to Cambodia this year.