Phnom Penh: Prime Minister Hun Sen has expressed his gratitude to the Czech Republic for cancelling millions of dollars in debt owed by Cambodia since the 1980s. The Prime Minister’s thanks were conveyed to the Czech Republic’s new Ambassador, Martin Vávra, when he presented his credentials at the Peace Palace on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister’s personal assistant, Mr. Eang Sopalleth, told reporters after the meeting that the people and government of the Czech Republic had been thanked for their “past assistance to Cambodia in the political, economic and social spheres”, adding that the new Ambassador had “pledged to do his best to further strengthen and expand the relationship and cooperation between the two nations.”
Cambodia’s debt to the Czech Republic had been in the region of $3.6-million and was accrued back in the early 1980s when Cambodia was building textile and food processing plants in the wake of the war years. Talk of cancelling the debt began in 2008 during a visit to Cambodia by the Czech Republic. The matter was raised again in 2014 during a meeting between then-Czech Ambassador Vitezslav Grepl and National Assembly President Mr. Heng Samrin. This eventually led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 2018 to solidify the agreement on forgiving the kingdom’s debts. It is understood that the Czech Republic will now cancel 77% of the total debt, with the remaining 23% being converted into assistance for the health and education sectors.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has made repeated calls in recent years on foreign governments to cancel Cambodia’s war-era debts. Chief among these is the United States. The Prime Minister met recently with its Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman. During that meeting, the Prime Minister suggested that the $600-million debt be restructured. The Royal Cambodian government is proposing to President Joe Biden that a bilateral strategy be worked out that would allow for a gradual repayment scheme for part of the debt, but that 70% of it be converted into developmental assistance. The U.S Deputy Secretary of State said this suggestion would be considered by the White House.