Prime Minister Hun Sen has reacted to the United States imposing aid cuts on Cambodia, saying the move was politically motivated because the US wants to see the dissolution of the opposition CNRP reversed prior to the upcoming national election.
The White House last week said it was suspending or curtailing several Treasury, USAID and military assistance programmes that support Cambodia’s military, taxation department and local authorities, all of which it said, shared blame for recent political instability.
The US has taken a strong stance against the dissolution of the CNRP, which was dissolved in the wake of its leader Kem Sokha being jailed on treason charges after being accused of conspiring with the US to topple the government through a colour revolution.
Speaking to thousands of garment workers on Saturday at a Special Economic Zone in Preah Sihanouk province, Mr Hun Sen said that US aid for taxation ended in 2016, but the announcement was made last month.
In his first public comments since the announced aid suspension, Mr Hun Sen accused US ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt of lying, saying aid cuts to Cambodia’s tax department were made in 2016.
“They have not given us this aid since 2016, but they just announced that they would cut that aid,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We, the 16 million people, didn’t receive American aid in the tax sector. This aid was already finished in 2016.”
Mr Hun Sen then challenged Mr Heidt to give an explanation.
“Please, US ambassador, answer this one question: why did you announce cutting aid while there is no aid? Do you intend to distort the reputation of Cambodia?” he said. “What is the purpose? Please, US ambassador, answer this question.”
Mr Hun Sen said the US ambassador intended to confuse the public because it spread the information through newspapers and Voice of America radio.
“How can he announce aid cuts when there was no aid coming in the first place,” he said. “The reality is that he is twisting the truth to create a psychological war in an attempt to bring the opposition back from the dead.”
“I have to clearly tell my 16 million Cambodian people that we have not received US aid on taxation,” Mr Hun Sen added, noting that the US previously provided experts on treasury and taxation, but its assistance ended in 2016.
“I want the ambassador to know that the assistance was cut in 2016, and that this announcement was made in 2018,” he said. “It is a deceptive announcement made for political purposes.”
“I want to tell my people not to believe you,” he added. “You defend your country, but you lie to the Cambodian people.”
Arend Zwartjes, a US embassy official in Phnom Penh, declined to comment on Mr Hun Sen’s speech.
“We are asking the State Department and Treasury Department for guidance so I probably won’t have an answer,” he said.