Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday presided over the opening of the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, praising its co-founder, Thai tycoon Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, for helping the Cambodian government in the late 1980s and during the factional fighting in Phnom Penh in 1997.
Mr. Hun Sen thanked Mr. Prasert, the majority owner of Bangkok Airways and the Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, for opening the new $50 million hospital and recalled that their relationship went back to 1990, when Phnom Penh was a pariah and banned from commercial flights by many countries.
“Our beginning was the direct flight of Bangkok Airways to Cambodia when Cambodia was situated on its own diplomatically, politically and economically,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “At that time, Bangkok Airways’ direct flights to Phnom Penh were an important step to the Paris Peace Agreement.”
However, Mr. Hun Sen said Mr. Prasert’s faithfulness expressed itself most fully during the July 5 and 6 factional fighting in Phnom Penh, during which armed forces loyal to Mr. Hun Sen, then second prime minister, ousted First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh.
During that time, he said, Mr. Prasert’s airline was facing financial difficulties but continued flights to Phnom Penh even when all other airlines had called off their services.
“Even getting profits or losses, Dr. Prasert kept open direct flights to Phnom Penh. This was important to me as a leader at that time.”
A few months after the July 1997 fighting, Mr. Hun Sen awarded Bangkok Airways a monopoly over the soon-to-be lucrative air route from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
Bangkok Airways’ legal monopoly on the route lasted until October 2013, when competing airlines, including AirAsia, were finally also granted licenses to service it.