An official at the Canadian consulate said on Wednesday that his country did not commit to restarting aid projects in Cambodia—as claimed by Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry after a meeting with visiting Canadian officials on Friday.
Canada closed its Phnom Penh embassy in 2009 and wrapped up assistance programs in 2012, citing the need to refocus its aid efforts elsewhere. In December, it reopened a tiny diplomatic office inside the British Embassy in the hope of capitalizing on economic opportunities in the country.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion leaves the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Phnom Penh on Friday after a meeting in which Cambodian officials asked Canada to resume aid for mine clearance and climate change mitigation projects. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily) On Friday, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion met with his Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, during a*seven-day sweep through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said Canada “promised to give funds to clear mines in Cambodia.” Later, he said the country agreed to contribute an unspecified amount of money to climate change mitigation efforts.
But no such assurances were made, according to Bunleng Men, a trade commissioner at Canada’s local office.
“Minister Dion did not commit to provide additional aid to Cambodia during his visit,” Mr. Men said in an email on Wednesday.
“The Minister did have lively discussion on areas where Canada and Cambodia could collaborate, such as combating climate change and demining.”
Mr. Men explained that although Ottawa halted bilateral aid to Cambodia in 2012 as part of national budget cuts, it continued to fund projects through the U.N. and smaller organizations.
“After the election of the new Canadian government in November 2015, the new government proceeded to do a review of Canada’s bilateral aid program. The results of this review will be made public in early 2017,” he said.
Officials from Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry, currently in Laos for the annual Asean Summit, could not be reached for comment.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said the ministry likely misreported the outcome of Friday’s meeting in order to score points amid a tense political climate.
“That’s what they want the public to see,” he said.
He also downplayed the impact of any future Canadian aid, given Ottawa’s small aid budget.
“The aid wouldn’t be that big and the relationship wouldn’t be that strong,” he said.
paviour@cambodiadaily.com
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