PM warns against false news over use of Siem Reap airport

Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued an advance warning to international and domestic analysts not to start false speculations that the new airport in Siem Reap will be used to host Chinese warplanes.

His warning comes amid previous unfounded claims over possible Chinese naval presence in Ream Naval Base and also the China-funded Koh Kong port project.

Mr Hun Sen’s remarks were made yesterday during a visit to inspect the progress of the construction of the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport in Popel and Tayek communes, Sotr Nikum district.

“All analysts, please do not speculate that this is a base for Chinese warplanes. Do not make such an assumption. If they want to land here, they can land wherever they want,” he said. “For example, if they want to land the planes, and if they have a military operation, they could land at Pochentong airport [Phnom Penh International Airport] wherever they want to. Hopefully, analysts or commentators do not regard this airport as a part of strengthening Chinese military capacity abroad in Cambodia. I send you a message not to analyse it foolishly.”

“Cambodia does not need a foreign military presence. We need only foreign tourists. Some alleged that Dara Sakor port in Koh Kong was designed for Chinese military. How stupid! Cambodia is not foolish in allowing its territory to host a foreign military, which contravenes the Constitution. For what do we let Chinese and foreign military be based in Cambodia?” Mr Hun Sen added.

Siem Reap International Airport is being built with an investment of about $880 million. Construction of the airport began on March 15, 2020, and targeted to be completed within three years, employing more than 1,000 workers, 70% of whom are Cambodian.

Construction is now 22% complete and it the airport is expected to be over by March 30 next year. The first test run is scheduled for October.

In November, 2019, The Asia Times cited analysts speculating that the deep-water port being built as part of a Chinese development project in Koh Kong province would be “large enough to potentially host Chinese frigates and destroyers, as well as other vessels of the People’s Liberation Army Navy”.

This was subsequently denied by both the Cambodian and Chinese governments.

The government in October  also debunked a statement from the US Embassy alleging that there is ongoing construction by China at Ream Naval Base.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that the accusation from the US was baseless and just a repetition of claims which Prime Minister Hun Sen had proven several times in the past to be false.

He said Cambodia is quite capable of developing the Ream base on its own and will not allow any foreign country to have military facilities on its sovereign territory.

“As for Ream Naval Base construction development we welcome any country, including America, and China’s help,” said Siphan.

Chad Roedemeier, US Embassy spokesperson had claimed then that “We are aware of consistent, credible reporting that significant construction by the People’s Republic of China continues at Ream Naval Base”.

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