At least 200 disgruntled residents from three villages in Siem Reap’s Prasat Bakorng district blocked a 3-km stretch of unsurfaced road on Friday demanding that a private tour operator, which uses the route to ferry tourists to Kompong Pluk floating village, paves the thoroughfare to stop the clouds of dust its buses drag up around their homes, a village representative said.
Government officials on Sunday said they had no knowledge of a Cambodian-American U.S. Army major convicted in the U.S. on Friday of illegally possessing and passing on classified national intelligence records and having unauthorized contact with Cambodian officials.
Major Seivirak Inson was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military jury that also forfeited his pay and dismissed him from the army after 20 years of service, according to reports by the Associated Press and others.
General Hing Bunheang, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and head of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, disavowed any knowledge of or relationship with Maj. Inson.
“We were not involved with him,” Gen. Bunheang said. “I don’t know him,” he added without elaborating.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, also said he did not know about the case though he expressed hope that the incident would not damage U.S.-Cambodia relations.
“Cambodian-Americans, whoever, they should respect the rules,” he said. “No matter [who] they are…if you work for a foreign government, they have to respect American interests.”
“We don’t want this incident to create anti-sentiment between the two countries,” he added.
Defense Minister General Tea Banh and other officials at the ministry could not be reached for comment.
Among the documents unlawfully in Maj. Inson’s possession was a classified “U.S. Pacific Command maritime strategy document” that “he had reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States,” according to U.S. news reports.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported on Saturday that Maj. Inson was also convicted for failing to report contacts he had with Cambodian military and government officials and of passing the classified intelligence assessments about Cambodia to an unidentified person between 2009 and 2012.
Still, the jury reportedly found Maj. Inson not guilty of gathering information about other Cambodians serving in the U.S. armed forces with the intent of passing the intelligence on to the Cambodian military.
Maj. Inson was found guilty, however, of adultery and fraudulently signing a bank document after his wife provided the U.S. Army with evidence, according to U.S. media reports.
Sean McIntosh, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, declined to comment on the case because it was a “military-judicial” matter and referred all questions to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, which could not be reached.
Questions to the U.S. Army’s 8th Theater Sustainment Command, where Maj. Inson was serving, also in Hawaii, were not immediately replied to.
The revelation comes amid growing U.S. military aid to Cambodia, which reached approximately $6 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. pays for regular joint military exercises with RCAF units in Cambodia and paved the way for military training for all three of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons.
Mr. Hun Manet, the eldest, had his education paid for at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The U.S. Defense Department paid $175,000 to send the youngest, Hun Many, to the U.S. National Defense University in Washington for a year. According to U.S. diplomatic cables obtained and released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, the U.S. also sent the middle son, Hun Manith, to a counterterrorism program in Germany.
Opposition lawmakers and rights groups have repeatedly urged the U.S. to end its military aid to Cambodia over numerous allegations of the Cambodian military’s human rights abuses. But the U.S. has defended the relationship, insisting that its involvement strives to develop RCAF’s professional capacity and complies with all U.S. laws and regulations.
The U.S. did suspend military aid to Cambodia after armed forces loyal to then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted then-First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh during factional fighting in 1997, but resumed the aid in 2006.
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)
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