PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, March 26 (UPI) -- Michelle Obama's tour of Asia to promote girls' education was marked by blunt criticism from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said the first lady was "playing around" and using hopeful rhetoric about making improvements but not guaranteeing aid.
The Phnom Penh Post reported that Hun Sen told U.S. embassy personnel and USAID workers Wednesday that Obama's Saturday visit with 10 schoolgirls in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, part of the White House's "Let Girls Learn" initiative, was good but not enough. He said the U.S. government should promise scholarships – if it sincerely seeks improvements to education reform in Cambodia.
"Her mission is very good, but I suggest the United States should help completely and not play like this," the Cambodian prime minister said.
Obama's visit has led to a request from his education minister on Tuesday for state university scholarships for the 10 students who met with Obama on Saturday.
"What if she chose 300 students? It would be death. I don't have that money to give."
The girls' education through the 12th grade is being financially supported by a Room to Read, a U.S. NGO that promotes literacy in Cambodia and other countries.
In an interview with The Phnom Penh Post, the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said Hun Sen's comments are not helpful for Cambodia.
Voice of America reported Cambodia faces specific challenges in the area of education for girls.
Rural areas lack nearby secondary schools, and girls who travel farther away from home are exposed to dangers. School facilities are lacking in toilets and washing facilities. Girls who return home to use the latrine sometimes don't return to finish the school day, said Kim Dara, head of the Cambodia office of World Education.
Cambodia has 2.9 million children in school and under half are girls. The White House initiative is seeking to end barriers that prevent 62 million girls worldwide from attending school, and to prevent millions more from dropping out.