The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said Friday (June 11) that the embassy’s military attaché was denied full access to Cambodia’s largest naval base during an invited tour of the base. Days earlier, Washington expressed concern about Chinese military activity at the base.
During a June 1 visit to Cambodia, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman questioned China’s military presence at the naval base in Unrong and sought clarification on the demolition of U.S.-funded buildings at the base.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to allow the U.S. Embassy to conduct regular tours of the base after meeting with Sherman, and military attaché Col. Marcus M. Ferrara was invited to the base Friday.
“During the brief visit, Cambodian military officials denied the military attaché full access to the naval base,” the embassy said in a statement.
“When it became clear that he would not be granted full access, Colonel Ferrara ended the visit and requested that Cambodian military officials reschedule the visit at the earliest possible time if full access is granted,” the statement said.
Regular and frequent visits to the base by U.S. and other foreign military officials would be an important step toward greater transparency and mutual trust, the U.S. Embassy said.
Ouk Seyha, commander of the naval base in Vinh Long and deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy, declined to comment when asked about the visit by Reuters.
A Voice of America reporter asked Cambodian Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Chhum Socheat about the visit and has not yet received a response.
Last October, Cambodia confirmed that it had dismantled a small U.S.-built facility at the base as part of an upgrade program, but denied reports that China would be involved.
Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh said last week that China would help modernize and expand Yunlang, but was not the only country allowed to use the facility.
As Washington has sought to check Beijing’s growing influence in Southeast Asia, Cambodia has moved closer to China, becoming one of its most important allies in the region.