DEFENCE Minister Tea Banh said he received a “much warmer” welcome from the United States government on his recent trip to the country than on his first visit in 1995, but confirmed that the US remains concerned about allegations of human rights violations committed by military units and addressed at a congressional hearing earlier this month.
Speaking at the Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from his four-day visit to the US, Tea Banh said he was glad to be greeted by an honour guard when he arrived at the Pentagon in Washington for meetings on Monday afternoon.
“[I] was greeted by US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates at the defence ministry headquarters,” he told reporters.
“He came out to welcome me at the entrance steps with soldiers organised alongside the entrance.”
However, Tea Banh confirmed to reporters in Washington on Tuesday that unnamed RCAF officers have been denied visa entry by the US government due to suspicions – aired by Human Rights Watch during a US congressional hearing on September 10 – that they have been involved in human rights violations in Cambodia.
The suspicions, concerning RCAF Brigades 911, 31 and 70 – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit – were subsequently raised by eight US congressmen in a letter to Gates on September 18.
Responding to a question from a Radio Free Asia reporter, Tea Banh said he was aware visa restrictions were in place but denied the allegations against the units in question, saying he considered the letter’s claims to be “all false”.
Tea Banh said in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that Gates did not raise the issue of abuses in talks, but instead complimented Cambodia on recent peacekeeping efforts, its commitment to counterterrorism efforts and for sending deminers to help conflict-ridden countries.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment on Thursday.