US, Cambodia pledge to strengthen military ties

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
US ambassador Patrick Murphy (left) shakes hands with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen on Tuesday. US EMBASSY IN PHNOM PENH

The US on Tuesday pledged to help train military officers, particularly Cambodia’s blue helmet troops deployed for UN’s peacekeeping operations.

The pledge was made during a meeting between US ambassador Patrick Murphy and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen. Further strengthening of the two nations’ relations was also discussed.

In a Facebook post, Pisen said: “[Cambodia] continues to collaborate with the US by exchanging visits and finding the remains of US soldiers who had gone missing in Cambodia.”

The post said Murphy had raised the alleged presence of a secret Chinese naval base on Cambodian soil but added that the US believes this to be a smear campaign meant to destabilise relations between the two countries.

Murphy said: “[We] discussed the necessary steps for expanding security collaboration, including the promotion of human rights and democracy and the protection of Cambodia’s sovereignty from the presence of a foreign military base.”

Regarding this issue, Pisen reiterated that the Kingdom’s Constitution did not authorise any foreign military base in its territory, nor does it allow the presence of its military abroad, except within the framework of a UN request.

On July 21, the Wall Street Journal published a report alleging a secret agreement between China and Cambodia for the installation of a Chinese naval base in the province of Preah Sihanouk.

The Cambodian government had denied the allegations several times, even allowing national and international journalists to visit the suspected site.

The post also announced that both sides had discussed a bilateral collaboration that would mutually benefit the parties. The collaboration is said to focus on the search for the remains of missing US soldiers in Cambodia, along with continued efforts in peacekeeping and mine-clearing missions.

RCAF General Command spokesman Thong Solimo confirmed on Wednesday that besides helping train Cambodia’s blue helmet troops, the US will help in other areas of the Kingdom’s military.

“Previously, ties between Cambodia and the US had deteriorated. But they have improved since Murphy’s mandate. The ties became fruitful again thanks to US President Donald Trump.

“The president sent a letter to Samdech [Hun Sen] confirming respect for [Cambodia’s] sovereignty and non-interference in [our] internal affairs,” Solimo said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that US’s pledge of helping Cambodia’s blue helmet troops would help improve bilateral relations.

“A good beginning is the normalisation of ties between the US and Cambodia. The US has been able to resume its connection with the RCAF, which is important in its geopolitics.

“For its part, Cambodia can allay the US’ pressing concerns over the deterioration of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and over Cambodia’s embrace of China,” he said.

US embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg declined on Wednesday to provide details of the meeting between Murphy and Pisen.