The Cambodian government is stepping in to pay the tuition fees of six Cambodian cadets whose scholarships at four US military academies have been canceled amid increasingly strained relations between Phnom Penh and Washington.
“As a result of Cambodia’s reduced cooperation in several areas of traditional bilateral military-military engagement, the country has lost its eligibility for the US military service academy program,” said Arend Zwartjes, spokesperson for the military service. United States Embassy in Phnom Penh, in an email to VOA in mid-June.
The students, called cadets in military academies but called aspirants to the United States Naval Academy, were selected for the scholarship program by the United States Department of State. Some are not yet enlisted in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Five of the students have asked the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia to intervene to help them graduate. In letters sent to United States Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, copies of which were received by VOA’s Khmer service, the students said they viewed the decision as “shocking bad news” and that they were heartbroken.
The Cambodian Defense Ministry announced on July 2 that it would cover the remaining $ 1.1 million in tuition fees for students.
“Considering the difficulties Cambodian cadets face due to the end of their scholarships by the United States, and with the spirit of responsibility for their future and for the good of the Cambodian military academy, the Cambodian government will cover the tuition for six students until graduation, ”according to a press release issued by the Department of National Defense on July 2.
“I am happy because this is my future and I wish to be a competent officer after graduation,” said Nou Chanyuthea, a rising junior at the US Air Force Academy.
Other students said they were “very happy” that the Cambodian government will pay their tuition and fees after waiting for the resolution after academies cancel their scholarships.
Two students attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York; two are at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; one is studying at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and one is at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, according to the students and a US official.
Some students are in their final year and are expected to graduate.
The situation is seen as yet another setback in military relations between Cambodia and the United States after years of deterioration. Relations between the two countries have been cut off for decades “due to the armed conflict and changes of government in Cambodia,” according to the State Department website.
“US relations with the Kingdom of Cambodia have grown increasingly strained in recent years in light of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s suppression of political opposition and his growing membership in the People’s Republic of China (RPC), ”a 2019 Congressional Research Service report said.
Tuition and fees at US military academies are structured differently from most US colleges and universities. Students do not pay tuition fees because the schools are funded by the US government. Instead, the students received education, services, and a small stipend during their four years in academies.