PM blasts Vietnam general over Covid claims

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the opening ceremony for National Road 11 connecting Prey Veng to Tbong Khmum province December 6. SPM

Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 6 expressed dismay after Vietnamese general Hoang Xuan Chien, formerly in charge of Vietnam’s border defences, claimed that Cambodia was a source of Covid-19 transmissions to the country.

Speaking at the opening ceremony for National Road 11 connecting Prey Veng to Tbong Khmum provinces, Hun Sen said Chien, now serving as Vietnam’s deputy minister of national defence, made the “unacceptable” remarks during an unspecified conference on March 10.

“Hoang Xuan Chien concluded at the time that ‘if we were negligent, transmissible disease will flow from Cambodia to Vietnam like a flood from the Mekong River’. This is a statement that I cannot accept at all and I want to publicly express that today.

“Cambodia is a small country, but we have never been a source of disease for Vietnam, Thailand or Laos,” Hun Sen said firmly, noting that he was taking issue with Chien personally and not the government or people of Vietnam.

“Cambodia released itself from this disease by vaccinating its people and we’ve now reached nearly 89 per cent of the population. Such words should never be spoken about one’s neighbours,” he said.

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Screenshot of Vietnamese General Hoang Xuan Chien. FRESH NEWS

The prime minister said Cambodia, although it is a small nation, will not accept such insults.

“Now, there is still time for you to make a correction or apology [to Cambodia]. This is my message. The statements show contempt for Cambodia. They are unacceptable and I need to make that clear now,” he said.

Separately, Hun Sen said all facilities borrowed from the private sector for use as Covid-19 treatment centres must be returned to their original purposes by year’s end as the number of new transmissions remains on the decline.

He said all of the patients from those private facilities will be transferred to Olympic Stadium for further treatment until the construction of another Covid-19 hospital in Phnom Penh is completed by the end of 2022.

“I instruct the Ministry of Health to work with Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng to set up a Covid-19 treatment centre and then transfer patients from Olympic Stadium so we can organise training in preparation for the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.

“So maybe by the end of 2022, we can make a transfer [from Olympic Stadium]. We need some money to build this new hospital. In the past, due to overcrowding, we borrowed Koh Pich, Premier Centre Sen Sok, New World and some other buildings.

“Now we have to give them back to the private sector, but we can still use the treatment facility at Olympic Stadium,” he said.

According to Hun Sen, the treatment facility under construction is large enough to accommodate thousands of people and also has hundreds of emergency beds there.

Cambodia is also expected to have a Covid-19 vaccines factory built by China in the near future. Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week that the agreement was reached between Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech and a local firm to build the factory.

“Some time next year, Cambodians will be able to use locally produced Covid-19 vaccines,” Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian said during the National Road 11 opening ceremony.

Hun Sen praised the plans to have a source for vaccines on hand – not for free, but available to Cambodia whenever they are needed. He said that when Cambodia has its own vaccines factory, the purchasing and transporting costs will be much lower.

“Soon the vaccines shortage that we have had concerns about in the past will not be a problem anymore. We will have our own supply of vaccines, but we’ll have to spend money to buy them, they aren’t going to be free. But we will be assured that we will always have vaccines produced in our territory,” he said.