Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 16/01/2009. Hun Sen returning from Kuwait, his first visit in the Middle East. (Photo: Vandy Rattana)
By Ros Dina
Ka-set in English
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On Friday January 16th , Cambodian prime Minister Hun Sen and his delegation returned to Phnom Penh in the same way as they left, with a direct flight especially chartered by Kuwait. The prime Minister's first ever and “very friendly” visit in Kuwait lasted four days in all, during which the head of government and some of his Ministers signed several agreements with the Arab emirate, their new partner. Hun Sen expressed his wish for the opening “soon” of an embassy of Kuwait in Cambodia. The new cooperation seems to be going all smoothly.
Upon their arrival at Pochentong airport, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong indicated to the press that the two countries had reached an agreement on direct flights between Cambodia and Kuwait and intended to promote tourism between both countries. They also signed two Memoranda of Understanding, one concerning the sending of Cambodian labour to Kuwait and the other about the setting-up of irrigation infrastructures in the province of Kampong Thom, a project worth $USD350 million which would apply to 130,000ha of ricefields. Among other things, Kuwait promised to finance the renovation of two road sections in the Northeast of Cambodia, namely the Thmor Kol-Sampov Loun section and the Kôn Domrei-Pailin section. These projects, according to Hor Namhong, will not be launched without the final assent of Kuwait's direction committee.
In August 2008, a delegation from Kuwait visited Cambodia and since then, Hun Sen has invited the country to send more delegations. He also sought the help of the Kuwaiti Fund for Development, this time for support to small irrigation networks in the country “to help farmers and reduce poverty”. The prime Minister suggested that the money might either be transferred to private micro-finance structures or to the Rural Development Bank, which belongs to the state.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs reported that Hun Sen encouraged Kuwaiti investors to take an interest in Cambodia, a land admittedly agricultural, but full of resources, he claimed. He offered them, as they have started doing, to buy rice to feed their country, but also to establish stocks with a view to sell them in turn to other countries in the Near East, forced to import, like Kuwait, the majority of their agricultural and farming products. A Working group should soon be set up to tackle investment questions raised by both countries.
As for tourism, Cambodia expects a lot from Kuwait. The Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, who was also accompanying the prime Minister, is in charge of creating a programme of cultural events including exhibitions and fairs promoting key-products in Cambodia, which would then be organised in Kuwait. Together with the Kuwaiti Minister of Commerce, Industry and Parliamentary relations, he signed a 5-year convention which will require, as a condition, the launching of projects within the first six months of its implementation.
The Minister of Tourism insisted on the interest there was in attracting to Cambodia tourists from a small country but where the GDP per capita amounts to USD50,000... (GDP per capita in Cambodia: USD1,800). “In 2008, we only welcomed some 700 Kuwaiti tourists in Cambodia. But if we could welcome 50,000, that would be good!”