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US about to debate future aid

C AMBODIA'S $50 million in aid from the United States will be under intense scrutiny when Congress debates its foreign aid budget on January 4.

The worst case scenario would be that US aid to Cambodia would be axed completely, according to the visiting president of the Washington-based Center for National Policy, Maureen Steinbruner.

But she would recommend in her report to the Clinton administration that US aid be redirected more toward agricultural projects, rather than road building, education, environment and health.

Foreign assistance was not a program popular with voters and all "specific country items" would come under a lot of pressure during the Congress debate, she said.

"We could end up with fewer programs getting more money."

"If a case can be made that current US objectives (in Southeast Asia) are being served - that is the enhancing of stability in the area and the building of democratic principles - then I am optimistic (about continued aid to Cambodia)," she said.

Steinbruner said a very targeted US aid program in Cambodia needed to be maintained "for its (the US) own sake".

A number of politicians in Washington "have been following Cambodia for a while" and Steinbruner believes she can gain the attention of decision makers.

However, there "really isn't any public opinion about Cambodia in the United States now. Five years ago there was a fair amount, now there is only occasional attention," she said.

Steinbruner, who met with top Cambodian leaders and foreign ambassadors during her visit, said she would recommend that aid be given to small-scale agricultural technology.

"The country lacks the organizational and capital resources needed for large-scale approaches," she explained.

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