US Congressman Dick Gephardt arrives in Phnom Penh on Jan 12.
Twin US congressional and military delegations made whirlwind trips to Cambodia from
Jan 12-15, the most significant indication to date of a possible thaw in official
US-Cambodian relations that have prevented direct aid to the Cambodian Government
since the 1997 coup.
A ten-member congressional mission led by Democrat House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt
that was in the Kingdom between Jan 12-15 intersected with a Jan 12-14 visit by Admiral
Dennis Blair, Commander-in-Chief of the US military's Pacific theater forces.
Blair, who came to Cambodia as part of a regional tour that included Laos and a planned
but later canceled visit to Vietnam, led a press junket to observe US MIA search
teams in action on the island of Koh Tang on Dec 13. On Jan 14 Blair flew to Siem
Reap where he attended a CMAC mine clearance demonstration and made a tour of the
Angkor temple complex before leaving the country later the same day.
Blair indicated that Cambodia would benefit from increased US military assistance,
but gave no details.
After meetings with both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy Party legislator Tioluong
Samaura, Gephardt expressed satisfaction with the Cambodian government's moves to
form a Khmer Rouge tribunal and offered the possibility of increased US assistance
"We are prepared to go back and tell our [congressional] colleagues about the
progress we have seen here and I hope that the relationship can be improved,"
Gephardt told reporters at an airport press conference prior to his departure on
However Gephardt's emphasis that future US aid be channeled through NGOs indicated
the US is not yet prepared to life the suspension on direct bilateral aid to the
Cambodian government imposed after the July 1997 coup.