Cambodian PM, Tax Chief Accuses US of Lying Over Recent Aid Cuts
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accused the United States on Saturday of being dishonest in their announcement of aid cuts to the Southeast Asian nation, claiming that Cambodia has not received such financial assistance since 2016.
Despite claims from the White House, Hun Sen is adamant that the United States is doing nothing but “cutting air.” “We, the 16 million people, didn’t receive American aid in the tax sector. This aid was already finished in 2016,” said Hun Sen in a recent speech delivered in Preah Sihanouk. He went on to question the United States’ true intentions, suggesting that the aid cut announcements were made to tarnish Cambodia’s international image. “Please, U.S 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?” The United States embassy in Phnom Penh has declined to comment.
Hun Sen’s accusations have been supported by his Secretary of State, Kong Vibol. As Director General of Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation, Vibol’s department is one of the few areas of the Cambodian government targeted by the United States’ supposed aid cuts. The United States “has suspended capacity building support to the [Tax Department] and its officials,” said United States ambassador William Heidt in a letter to the Tax Department, just two days after the official White House announcement.
The announcement, made by the White House last Tuesday, came in light of recent political crackdowns in Cambodia, which led the Supreme Court to dissolve the nation’s leading opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The move has been regarded as highly anti-democratic by local rights groups as it paves the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen to extend his current term—which has spanned more than three decades—in Cambodia’s general elections next year.
“I am starting to feel that Your Excellency Ambassador is trying to make up the political issues,” writes Kong Vibol in a heated public letter in which he also asserts that all United States-related aid programs ended in 2016, and that Heidt himself attended the closing ceremony of the very last project. Heidt was also accused of providing “biased and wrong information to the [U.S.] State Department and the U.S. government about the situation in Cambodia” in the same letter.
While American officials have refused to specifically name the programs which are being cut—saying only that they are targeting branches of the Cambodian government involved in the political clampdown— the White House has affirmed that projects related to health, agriculture and mine clearance, which are “in support of the Cambodian people,” will remain unaffected.