Cambodia says it razes U.S.-built naval facility to move it

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia razed a U.S.-built building on its largest naval base to allow for further expansion and will relocate the demolished facility, Cambodia’s government said on Sunday, denying reports of Chinese involvement in the redevelopment.

The Pentagon had said it was concerned about reports that the U.S.-funded Cambodian Navy tactical headquarters facility at Ream had been demolished and had asked the Cambodian government for an explanation. The building, roughly 30 metres (100 feet) long, had housed several small patrol boats.

“Cambodia razed the US-built facility at Ream Naval Base, for the building requires renovations,” Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office said in a Tweet.

Defence ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the facility was being moved to a new location at Koh Preap near the port of Sihanoukville to make way for an expansion of the naval base at Ream because “a lot of ships will need to dock”.

Nikkei Asia quoted a senior Cambodian naval official as saying China was helping with the expansion, but Chhum Socheat said China was not helping.

Last year the Pentagon asked Cambodia to explain why it turned down an offer to repair the base, saying the decision had raised speculation of possible plans for hosting China’s military.

The Cambodian government has repeatedly denied reports that China had reached a secret deal with Cambodia to let it place forces at the base, saying that hosting foreign forces would be against Cambodia’s constitution.

Cambodia is one of China’s closest allies in Southeast Asia and has received billions of dollars of Chinese aid as well as political backing for Hun Sen in the face of Western criticism.

Cambodia has been wary of superpower rivalry since being devastated by fighting between U.S. and Chinese proxy forces in the 1970s that culminated in the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Giles Elgood