Gov’t Denies US Naval Unit Expulsion

The Cambodian government has continued to deny that it sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy ending the mission of a naval humanitarian unit, contradicting the embassy’s assertion that the battalion was expelled from the country.

When the departure of the U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion, or “Seabees,” was first reported earlier this month, Cambodian Navy Commander Tea Vinh said the unit was just going on vacation, while Nem Sowath, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s department of policy and foreign affairs, said he was not aware of any recent communication with the embassy about the Seabees.

cam photo seabees KHMER
Members of the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, known as ‘Seabees,’ in an image taken from a video posted to the embassy’s Facebook page on earlier this month.

However, David Josar, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy spokesman, said that the Seabees’ mission was terminated by government order.

Contacted again last Monday, Mr. Sowath was more direct. “We didn’t send anything to them,” he told a reporter by telephone. On Thursday, asked to confirm his previous statement, he said: “You shouldn’t need to ask about our job. Should I always report to the Daily every time I work?”

In an email on April 3, Mr. Josar said that the Seabees’ work in Cambodia had been postponed “indefinitely.”

“The Royal Government of Cambodia officially notified the Embassy of its decision last week to postpone indefinitely the mission of the U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion,” he said.

“The Cambodian government did not offer a reason for their decision. We refer you to the government for an explanation,” Mr. Josar added.

The Seabees have been involved in humanitarian projects across the country for over a decade, including hospital improvements and building water wells.

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