Hun Sen Accepts WFP Apology Over Food Shortage Claim

In a letter released Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he accepted an apology from the World Food Program for failing to update an old post on its website that claimed Cambodia was at risk of a food shortage.

Mr Hun Sen had lashed out at WFP in a Dec 9 speech, claiming a WFP official had mistakenly warned of a food shortage in a radio interview.

On Dec 18, WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre de Margerie wrote to apologize to the prime minister for not updating the organization’s website, which he said was the source of the quoted food shortage claim. He wrote that WFP believed Cambodia had a food surplus.

In a letter released Friday by the Information Ministry, the prime minister said he accepted WFP’s explanation and thanked the organization for its “fair assessment of the efforts and achievements” made by the government in reducing hunger.

Mr Hun Sen wrote that the government had made “remarkable progress” toward its 2015 Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. He added that it was therefore “a disservice to the nation…when media downplays or misquotes our achievement on poverty reduction.”

Mr Hun Sen assured WFP that the government would continue to contribute 2,000 tons of rice and $467,000 annually from 2011 until 2015 to WFP programs.

The prime minister had earlier threatened to withdraw this support unless WFP apologized for the quoted food shortage warning. Government and WFP officials could not be reached.

The International Food and Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index 2010, which used 2008 undernourishment and child health data from 81 poor countries, concluded that hunger in Cambodia was at an “alarming” level and only 26 countries were worse off in terms of the nutritional status of its population.

Separately, Chou Sokheng, the lawyer of WFP warehouse guard Seng Kunakar, who was arrested Dec 17–a day before the WFP’s apology to Mr Hun Sen–said his client would appeal this week against his six-month prison sentence.

Mr Kunakar was convicted within 48 hours of his arrest for incitement, after he allegedly shared pages printed from a website that accused government leaders of being traitors and of ceding land to Vietnam.

“We have talked about the appeal and we will appeal sometime next week,” Mr Sokheng said, adding that he would wait a few days to appeal because Mr Kunakar was not feeling well.

Mr Kunakar’s trial has been widely criticized by the opposition SRP and human rights groups, who said it signaled a further government crackdown on freedom of expression in Cambodia.

   (Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)


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