Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday lashed out at unnamed foreign journalists for overlooking Cambodia’s recent development and instead depicting the country as “hell.”
Speaking during the inauguration of a new passenger terminal at Phnom Penh International Airport, the prime minister said the way the country was portrayed in international media reports was far removed from reality.
“There are two Cambodia’s: The first one is the real Cambodia, and the second one is the Cambodia in newspapers, where a number of people defame or speak bad about Cambodia, like it’s a hell,” he said.
“The Cambodia in newspapers outside the country, through writing and dissemination by a number of people, including a number of Cambodians, [suggests] that Cambodia is not a place for living and visiting.”
Mr. Hun Sen then lauded the expansion of international airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, which helped accommodate the 4.7 million tourists that visited the country last year. He also noted the ability of the runway in Phnom Penh to handle large aircraft, such as the planes that ferried U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to Cambodia for official visits.
“If there’s no safety, the heavy planes used by leaders of other countries would not have been able to land at Phnom Penh. This is the real Cambodia, not Cambodia in the newspapers,” he said.
Despite conceding that he had made a mistake by not setting aside more land around the Phnom Penh airport when he became prime minister in 1985, Mr. Hun Sen said there were no plans to expand it further, due to the impact this would have on surrounding communities.
“At that time, this area had less people living there…but we have let people live there until now. But now, if we dare to [expand] it, there will be demonstrations,” he said. “Therefore, let’s keep the status quo.”
Chray Nim, a representative of the Thma Kol neighborhood, whose residents have long protested against the threat of eviction amid plans to expand the airport, on Wednesday called for the prime minister to provide the paperwork to back up his pledge.
“If the government is not going to build more runways for the expansion of the airport, I first want Samdech Prime Minister to issue us hard titles. And secondly, we need to have official and written directives with the premier’s signature to make sure we will not be evicted in the future,” Ms. Nim said.
The new passenger terminal at the Phnom Penh airport took about two years to construct and has been fully operational for about two months, according to Khek Norinda, spokesman for Cambodia Airports. Expansions to both the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports cost a combined $100 million, he said.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)