Cambodia will have to give “serious consideration” to Turkey’s request that it shut down the Zaman International secondary and primary school in Phnom Penh along with Zaman University, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said yesterday.
During a press conference on Monday, Turkish Ambassador Ilhan Tug said his country was seeking the closure of all schools affiliated with the Gulen Movement, founded by cleric Fehullah Gulen, who has been labelled a terrorist by Turkey since 2013 and accused of being behind the recent attempted coup.
But while Sounry claimed Turkey has yet to issue a formal request for action against the Zaman branches, Tug yesterday said it had been done more than once. “Many times during formal meetings with the Cambodian government we have expressed this desire,” Tug said.
Whether or not Turkey had the political capital to see that desire enacted, however, was questioned by analysts.
“I don’t see any connection whatsoever,” Southeast Asia analyst Carl Thayer said in reference to allegations that Zaman’s “Gulenist” roots equate to a terror connection. “Turkey’s firing wildly”.
Thayer said he believes the schools are more important to Cambodia than complying with Turkey’s wishes, saying “they are providing education and competition”.
Thayer did, however, acknowledge a precedent of shutting down Saudi-funded schools during increased fears of Islamic extremism in 2003, but hoped the government wouldn’t “overreact”.
Policy analyst and political commentator Ou Virak also expressed doubts the schools would be shut down. “I don’t think the Turkish government has a lot of influence,” he said. “[They’re] not a major donor.”
Zaman Company, which runs the schools, yesterday released a statement expressing “confidence of innocence” and saying they had not ruled out possible legal action against the Turkish government for defamation.