The United States has granted a Cambodian demining organisation a $1.6 million grant, despite a suspension of aid last year following a war of words between the countries over what the former claimed was democratic backsliding in the Kingdom.
A statement released on Wednesday by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC)said it will receive the funds from the US State Departmentto support demining and bomb-clearance operations in the eastern regions.
The US donation will support CMAC’s operations in Kampong Cham, Kratie, Tbong Khmum, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Stung Treng provinces.
It was unclear, as of press time, whether the US has decided to lift its suspension of aid to the Kingdom or whether the grant is a one-off.
CMAC Director-General Heng Ratana could not be reached for comment on Thursday, while US Embassy staff also declined comment on the matter when contacted the same day.
CMAC said it would use the funding to expand and deploy research and clearance in the east, and plan further operations to clear remaining explosives in the form of mines and unexploded ordnance.
Last year the US suspended aid to Cambodia following an alleged crackdown on independent media and international organisations, the arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha and the court-mandated dissolution of the CNRP.
The aid suspension was seen as a partial sanction on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, accusing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of violating human rights and restricting freedom of expression.
Political analyst Meas Nee said the US grant signals that Washington did not want to completely cut ties with Cambodia and that the humanitarian aid should not be seen as a warming of relations between the countries.
“It seems the US has left the door open in order to not completely cut ties with Cambodia. If the US cut aid completely, it will push the Kingdom closer to China. When we depend more on China, democracy will truly be in danger,” Nee said.