No Signs of Crisis In Cambodia, Hun Sen Says

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that Cambodia has not been seriously affected by the global economic crisis, and reiterated that the country isn’t at risk from political instability, contrary to a re­cent warning from a British think tank.

Despite saying Monday that “we shouldn’t pay much attention” to the critical report by the Economist magazine’s Intelligence Unit, Hun Sen on Tuesday once again addres­sed the EIU report, which last week rated Cambodia as a country at “very high” risk of political instability because of fallout from the global economic crisis.

“A report said Cambodia is below Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hun Sen said in a speech at the National In­stitute of Education. “We can’t be­lieve that; no one will believe when they make claims like that,” he said.

“I do not see any sign of crisis. I see cars, motorbikes and businesses. I have not seen people abandoning their cars and motorbikes in the streets,” Hun Sen said.

Cambodia’s score on the EIU’s political instability index was the fourth-highest in the world, equal to that of Sudan, and only Zimbabwe, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo scored higher.

Hun Sen added Tuesday that Cambodia has agreed to send soldiers on peacekeeping missions to both Chad and the Central African Republic, in addition to its existing mission in Sudan.

“I have decided to dispatch soldiers to two more countries on the UN’s request. Why does the UN need Cambodia if Cambodia is worse than Iraq and Afghanistan?” he asked. Several local political commentators have also disagreed with the EIU’s dire prediction.

Hun Sen did, however, acknowledge in his speech that Cambodia has been touched by the global economic crisis.

“The financial crisis will nonetheless affect Cambodia. For example, there are fewer garment orders,” he said, explaining that unemployment in other countries has contributed to declines in Cambodian garment exports and tourism.

He added that Cambodia is still doing about $10 billion in bilateral trade annually, and that Cambodi­an tourists visiting spots in their own country will help generate revenue to make up for a $50 million tourism shortfall predicted by the Ministry of Tourism.

Hun Sen also said that even though investment in the construction sector has declined, projects started before the economic crisis are still continuing.

“The Gold Tower 42 still continues. They do not abandon construction,” Hun Sen said, referring to the South Korean-financed skyscraper planned for Phnom Penh.

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith also held a press conference Tuesday to rebut the EIU’s report. He told reporters the government had plans to deal with declines in the garment industry by focusing on agriculture instead.

“We had started planning before the problems existed, so we just have to push it forward now. This is not an accident, or an awakening after a dream,” he said.

Khieu Kanharith repeated the prime minister’s assertion that the EIU had underlying political motivations for issuing a critical report about Cambodia. When asked why the EIU would have an agenda against the Cambodian government, Khieu Kanharith said he didn’t know.

“This evaluation might have had any political purpose, because only two newspapers received it,” he said. “I tried to get a copy of it, but I had to pay,” he said, referring to his stymied efforts to access the report on the Internet.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a free copy of the EIU report was still available at www.eiu.com/special. The assessment is only available in English, and the newspapers that have reported on it locally are both Eng­lish-language.

SRP President Sam Rainsy said he agreed with the EIU’s report, which he believes to have painted a fair picture of Cambodia.

“There will be serious effects in Cambodia, because the government hasn’t taken any measures to resolve the economic crisis,” he said by telephone Tuesday. “The government should be cautious and take measures, but I have seen no measures.”

He added that Hun Sen will lose control of the economy by not publicly recognizing the extent to which the global crisis will affect it.

“This is an irresponsible act….he is hiding his head in the sand,” Sam Rainsy said. “This [economic] crisis will lead to social and political unrest.”

(Additional reporting by Bethany Lindsay)

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