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Cambodia, China revamp naval base, stoking US fears

Cambodia and China on Wednesday broke ground on a Beijing-funded project to revamp a naval base that the US fears is intended for Chinese military use.
The Washington Post this week cited unnamed Western officials as saying the new facilities at Cambodia’s Ream base – strategically located on the Gulf of Thailand – were being built for the “exclusive” use of the Chinese navy.
Both countries deny the allegation, with Phnom Penh saying the base’s development is “not a secret.”
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Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh and Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian were on hand Wednesday to see work commence on the new facilities including a boat maintenance workshop, two piers, a dry dock, slipway, and sand dredging for bigger ships to dock.
Heavy construction machinery was visible at the site.
“It is not targeted at any third party, and will be conducive to even closer practical cooperation between the two militaries, better fulfillment of international obligations and provision of international public goods,” Wang said.
The project, paid for with a Chinese grant, also includes upgrading and expanding a hospital as well as donations of military equipment and repair of eight Cambodian warships, Tea Banh said.
“There are allegations that the modernized Ream base will be used by the Chinese military exclusively. No, it is not like that at all,” the minister told several hundred people including foreign diplomats at the ceremony.
“Don’t worry too much, the Ream base is very small… It won’t pose a threat to anyone, anywhere.”
The revamp will be finished in two years, another Cambodian official said.
Wang said it would deepen the iron-clad friendship between the two countries and help modernize the Cambodian navy.
The base has been a sore spot in US-Cambodia relations for years, with Washington suspecting it is being converted for use by China as Beijing seeks to buttress its international influence with a network of military outposts.
American embassy spokeswoman Stephanie Arzate said the United States and other countries in the region had “expressed concern about the lack of transparency on the intent, nature, and scope of this project,” as well as China’s role in its construction.
“An exclusive PRC military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security,” Arzate told AFP.
Concerns about the base go back as far as 2019, when the Wall Street Journal reported on a secret draft deal allowing Beijing to dock warships there.
Cambodia has since dismantled facilities at the base that were built partly with American money and played host to US military exercises.
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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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