Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Facing EU sanction threat, Cambodia PM considers arms purchases from Czech Republic

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a meeting with Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena at the Peace Palace in 2019. Panha Chhorpoan

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday that Cambodia is considering buying up to four surveillance planes from the Czech Republic as his country faces the possible suspension of the EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade deal over human rights and political concerns.

Hun Sen left Cambodia on Sunday as part of his five-day visit to three European countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. In Prague, Hun Sen and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis presided over the signings of agreements on education and health.

In a joint press conference afterward, Hun Sen thanked the Czech Republic for canceling an unspecified amount of Cambodia’s debt and for scholarships for Cambodian students, and said he was discussing purchasing more arms.

“This morning, I discussed the possibility of Cambodia buying three to four new L39 surveillance planes,” Hun Sen said at the news briefing, which was broadcast live on Facebook. “In addition, we will continue to discuss this issue, including the issue of weapons that Cambodia is importing, additions to some light weapons for our security and defense relations.”

Hun Sen also said that Cambodia had already purchased six L39 surveillance planes but didn’t say how much they cost.

Babis said that 2017 debt had been turned into development assistance for Cambodia and that agreements on health would allow Czech companies to build a hospital and manage dirty water in Siem Reap province.

Hun Sen’s visit to Europe came amid the EU’s review of Cambodia’s duty-free access to its market due to concerns over a deterioration in democracy and human rights.

During the press conference, Hun Sen said he hoped the EU will treat Cambodia fairly over the trade issue.

“I hope that various countries in the European Union will provide justice for Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.

Mu Sochua, vice president of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), criticized Hun Sen for going “shopping” for arms.

“For Mr. Hun Sen to go shopping for war planes and weapons while he is the sole man responsible for keeping EBA is appalling,” Sochua said in an email on Monday.

“Dictators spend state money to purchase weapons while keeping the people in vicious cycles of poverty and oppress dissenting voices,” she added.