Cambodia’s government is stepping in to pay tuition for six Cambodian cadets whose scholarships at four U.S. military academies were rescinded amid increasingly strained ties between Phnom Penh and Washington.
“Following Cambodia’s curtailment of cooperation in several areas of traditional bilateral military-military engagement, the country lost its eligibility for the U.S. military service academy program,” said Arend Zwartjes, the U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Phnom Penh, in an email to VOA in mid-June.
The students, called cadets at military academies but referred to as midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, were selected for the scholarship program by the U.S. State Department. Some are not yet enlisted in the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces.
Five of the students petitioned the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia to intervene to help them graduate. In letters sent to U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, copies of which were received by VOA’s Khmer Service, the students said they considered the decision to be "shockingly bad news" and that they were “heartbroken.”
Cambodia's Ministry of Defense announced July 2 it would cover the $1.1 million remaining tuition for the students.
“Seeing the difficulties facing the Cambodian cadets due to the termination of their scholarships by the U.S., and with the spirit of responsibility for their future and for the sake of Cambodian military academy, the Cambodian government will cover the cost of tuition for all the six students until graduation,” according to a press statement issued by the Ministry of National Defense on July 2.
“I'm happy because this is my future, and I wish to be a competent officer after graduation,” said Nou Chanyuthea, a rising junior at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Other students said they are “very happy” that the Cambodian government will pay for their tuition and fees after waiting for resolution after the academies rescinded their scholarships.
Two students attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; two are at U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; one studies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and one is at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut, according to the students and a U.S. official.
Some of the students are in their senior year and scheduled to graduate.
The situation is seen as another setback in military relations between Cambodia and the United States after years of deterioration. Relations between the two countries have been on and off for decades "as a result of armed conflict and government changes in Cambodia," according to the State Department website.
"U.S. relations with the Kingdom of Cambodia have become increasingly strained in recent years in light of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s suppression of the political opposition and his growing embrace of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)," stated a Congressional Research Service report in 2019.
Tuition and fees at the U.S. military academies are structured differently than most U.S. colleges and universities. Students pay no tuition because the schools are funded by the U.S. government. Instead, students received education, services and a small stipend over their four years at the academies.