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All smiles for American delegations

All smiles for American delegations

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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

to Cambodia.

"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

Jan 15.

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.

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