Cambodian PM Chides Foreign Accusations on Ream Naval Base

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PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for an end to “baseless” foreign accusations surrounding the development of the Kingdom’s Ream Naval Base, which suggested that the base is being expanded to accommodate a Chinese military presence.

“I have noted that the campaign to discredit Cambodia through false claims about the Ream Naval Base have resumed. I want to remind people abroad that they don’t need to take pictures of the base via satellite or other clandestine means,” he chided while addressing a graduation ceremony at a university here recently.

“We announced the construction and then held a large ceremony to break ground. It is clear that the construction is underway, and it is equally clear that it is not being carried out in secrecy. Nobody should be unduly concerned. The details of the work we are doing are freely available, people just need to ask,” he said in a report by the Phnom Penh Post.

The report said Cambodia is modernising the naval base with a grant from China. The expansion project broke ground in June last year, in a ceremony presided over by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence Tea Banh and Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian. The project has been criticised by the United States, which has alleged for years that Cambodia has permitted a Chinese military presence on its territory.

Hun Sen stressed that there is nothing wrong with the Kingdom seeking to strengthen its defence capacity. “Cambodia has the right to expand the capabilities of its naval forces. The base was previously just 2.7m deep,  and needed to be dredged (top pix) . This is hardly a threat to any other nation, let alone a superpower,” he said.

He went on to say that Cambodia needs to expand the base and could seek funding from wherever it chose.

The Prime MInister also said he had discussed the matter with the new Australian ambassador to Cambodia, Justin Whyatt, and explained the importance of upgrading the Royal Cambodian Navy’s capacity to protect its sovereign territory, combat illegal drug and human trafficking, prevent illegal fishing, and eliminate other transnational crimes around its maritime border.

“Once again, I stress that no foreign countries maintain a presence on Cambodian soil – or its waters,” he was quoted as saying, adding that once the base is completed, all foreign navies were welcome to dock there for joint military exercises. —  adj/mhi/mgm  (Cambodia MOD)