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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen asks SKorea for further $380m in loans

Hun Sen asks SKorea for further $380m in loans

Call comes during official visit to Seoul after Koreans promised $60m in lending Thursday

PRIME Minister Hun Sen is seeking a further US$380 million loan from South Korea for infrastructure projects, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at a press briefing Friday upon his return to Phnom Penh International Airport following an official visit to Seoul.

"The Korean Government is considering Hun Sen's proposals for a loan package," Hor Namhong said after landing in Phnom Penh.

"I would like to stress that the country is continuing to grow, despite the economic crisis," he added.

The $380-million loan proposal includes $100 million for a new bridge across the Bassac River from Takhmao and a further $100 million for a Phnom Penh ring road.

The remainder would go towards an irrigation project in Kandal province and a Pursat River reparation project.

Yang Saing Koma, director of the agricultural research body CEDAC, applauded the investment requested for the agriculture sector, adding that better infrastructure would help the country recover from the current economic downturn.

"The government is making agriculture a priority in the country, which is a positive thing," said Yang Saing Koma. "The sector still has huge potential."

He said that the state needs to invest heavily in irrigation, and that only 7 percent of the country's 2,000 irrigation systems are functioning properly.

Opposition concerns

In response to the news, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay warned that government mismanagement could leave the country saddled with large foreign debts.

The Korean Government is

considering Hun Sen's proposals.

"Loans are a problem ... they are not grants or aid. We have obtained loans for some projects and seen no benefit - that leaves us with a lot of debt," he said.

The quality of irrigation, roads and other infrastructure is poor, he added, citing the example of National Road 3 that was funded by a South Korean loan.

"Road 3 is very poor quality and cost us $30 million," said Son Chhay. "We owe a lot of money for a project that wasn't properly managed."

He said Cambodia is not sufficiently wealthy to repay the debt. "We must not owe more money that we cannot afford to repay," he said. "I am very concerned about spending loans without proper accountability."

News that the prime minister is seeking a further loan from South Korea comes after Seoul announced on Thursday it would lend the Kingdom $60 million for roads and sewerage, AFP reported.

The two countries held discussions on future loans from South Korea as part of talks in Seoul last week between Hun Sen and his counterpart President Lee Myung-bak held prior to the prime minister's return Friday to Phnom Penh.

Lee asked for permission for South Korean companies to build an industrial park near Sihanoukville during talks, although Cambodia has yet to respond.

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