Defense Says Ream Tour Was Sincere, US ‘Striving to Create New Problems’

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Defense Minister Tea Banh presents a gift to U.S. defense attache Marcus Ferrara during his visit in a photo posted to Banh’s Facebook page on June 8, 2021.

The Defense Ministry has further responded to a U.S. complaint on Friday that a defense attache was denied “full access” to Ream naval base during a tour, saying it had shown the U.S. delegation new constructions of concern.

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy said defense attache Marcus Ferrara was denied “full access” during a tour of the base that day and requested a rescheduling of the visit. The embassy said routine and frequent visits to the base would ensure “transparency and mutual trust.”

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said on Friday that visitors could not be allowed free rein. “Even the U.S. has never allowed any foreign [government] to check their bases,” he said at the time.

Over the weekend, the Defense Ministry issued a further statement saying it was “sincere” in organizing the tour, but such activities were “visits, not inspections or searches.”

It said Ferrara’s visit lasted about three hours, and he was shown two newly-constructed buildings — which a U.S. think-tank disclosed last month as being “rapidly constructed” based on a series of satellite images. The buildings were laborers’ accommodations, the ministry said.

The delegation was also shown new tactical command headquarters for the National Committee for Maritime Security. An earlier U.S.-funded headquarters building was demolished in September, according to the same think-tank.

“However, beyond the requested and agreed locations, the U.S. side created an immediate new scenario as they demanded to enter another place which was not included in the initial request,” the ministry said.

The Defense Ministry did not specify what this other location was. The U.S. Embassy said it did not have further comment and that it stood by its Friday statement.

“[T]he Ministry of National Defense regards the reaction of the U.S. Embassy as striving to create new problems and distorting the facts which could further negatively impacts the defense relationship between the two countries,” the ministry said.

In 2019, unnamed U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal they had seen a draft agreement between China and Cambodia that would allow Chinese military personnel, weapons and warships at Ream.

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