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Cambodia says China too busy fighting virus to organise PM trip to Wuhan

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia said on Tuesday that China was too busy fighting the coronavirus to organise a trip for its prime minister to visit Cambodian students caught up in the outbreak in Wuhan city following criticism of his decision not to repatriate them.

FILE PHOTO: Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen arrives at a celebration marking the 41st anniversary of the fall of Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES NO ARCHIVES

The outbreak has killed more than 420 people, most of them in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is capital, and many countries have sent aircraft to bring their citizens out.

Hun Sen, a close ally of China, said he would fly there on Wednesday from South Korea, where he is attending a summit, and that he had informed Chinese authorities of his trip.

He said on his Facebook page he would visit the students to “to show them warmth and to make sure they are not scared of the new type of infectious coronavirus”.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said later that China could not organise the trip.

“Because China is busy fighting the spread of this virus, therefore, the Chinese side in Wuhan city, Hubei province, doesn’t have enough time to provide good hospitality to Samdech Decho,” Koy Kuong told Reuters, referring to Hun Sen’s official title.

Koy Kuong said China had offered Hun Sen the opportunity to visit Beijing instead but he had chosen to fly back to Cambodia.

Cambodia, which has a large expatriate Chinese community, reported its one case of the virus last week.

Last week, Hun Sen said coronavirus was under control in Cambodia despite public fears.

He also said Cambodia would allow flights from China and would not evacuate Cambodian students and diplomats, sparking criticism that he was not doing enough to help them.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood