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PM Refutes Claim that River-Sea Canal is Only for Chinese Benefit

PHNOM PENH: Banned news source The Cambodia Daily posted an article yesterday claiming that the government’s highly-anticipated canal to connect the Bassac River to the sea is merely another Chinese-funded project that will only benefit Chinese economic interests. Prime Minister Hun Manet responded to the article while inaugurating a wastewater plant today and said that while he respects the rights to freedom of expression and the free press, no one should create stories to destroy the nation.

According to the Cambodia Daily, the Cambodian government is borrowing another $5 billion from China to build the Funan Techo Canal, which is soon expected to undergo construction. The PM said that this is a fabrication and that the canal will be funded through a private company under a Buy-Operate-Transfer agreement, which will allow the private company to build and control the canal for a designated amount of time, much like the new Siem Reap Airport.

The PM said that the Khmer newspaper based abroad made up a fictional source attributed as a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Economy who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. He said that the fake source was created to impress people and tarnish Cambodia’s reputation.

"It is human psychology. To be honest, they aren’t believable,” he said. “A source hiding the story is more believable! And the newspaper doesn’t know where the source comes from? Sometimes people create a source from their imagination or a dream-a source that does not dare show its identity. I do not believe that there are senior government officials at the Ministry of Economy-a group of people with knowledge, ability and experience-foolish enough not to know the difference between a borrowed loan and a BOT project."

The government says that the Cambodian Daily article, which says that only Chinese companies have the capacity to benefit from the canal, is fake and asked the public not to share it. In fact, access to the Cambodia Daily has been blocked in Cambodia along with Radio Free Asia since the run-up to the July election.

The Prime Minister said that the lies told by the Cambodia Daily are an insult and added that journalists must be ethical, take responsibility, and tell the truth to gain the respect of the people.

The Funan Techo Canal project plans to connect the Bassac River to the sea in Kep with a 180 kilometer long waterway. The Prime Minister says the project will benefit Cambodian trade and export market, but opponents say it will only benefit a precious few. Construction on the canal is expected to take about four years and cost around $1.7 billion.

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