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Lifting of U.S. trade embargo welcomed in Phnom Penh

By
SUE DOWNIE

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The U.S. Government's decision to lift its trade embargo against Cambodia has been greeted in Phnom Penh with a mixture of enthusiasm and relief.

President Bush announced Saturday during his visit to Singapore that the 16-year-old economic restrictions would be lifted, six weeks after the four Cambodian factions signed a U.N.-sponsored peace agreement in Paris.

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Both the Phnom Penh Government and the American mission in Phnom Penh said lifting the embargo would reduce the chances of the Khmer Rouge returning to power.

'It will contribute to preventing the return of the Khmer Rouge,' said Phnom Penh's vice-Foreign Minister Sok An.

'The key point is that it will raise the living standards of the people,' he said.

'It will encourage investment in the economy by Cambodian-Americans and others, and will improve the standard of living, which is one way of defusing the threat of the Khmer Rouge,' said a senior American diplomat in Phnom Penh.

An Australian diplomat, who also asked not to be named, said the lifting of sanctions would increase trade and investment from American businesses, which would help rebuild the war-torn country.

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The U.S. mission in Phnom Penh Saturday officially notified Prince Norodom Sihanouk, President of Cambodia's Supreme National Council, that the embargo would be removed.

The U.S. administration imposed the trade embargo when the Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975, and maintained the sanctions after the current government was set up with help from the Vietnamese in January 1979.

Since 1979, three resistance factions, led by the Khmer Rouge, fought the government militarily and politically until the peace agreement was signed in Paris on Oct. 23.

Under the agreement, UNTAC (the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia) will be established as the interim administration, responsible for disarming and demobilising the four factions' armies, and supervising elections, expected in 1993.

Secretary of State James Baker told the Paris conference that the trade embargo would be lifted once the U.N.'s advance mission (UNAMIC) was deployed and the four parties began implementing the 32-point peace agreement.

'It was clear that the conditions set out by Secretary of State Baker in Paris have now been met,' said the U.S. diplomat in Phnom Penh.

'UNAMIC (the U.N. Advanced Mission in Cambodia) is being deployed and the agreement is beginning to be implemented,' he said. 'The Supreme National Council and the Mixed Military Working Group have met in Phnom Penh, which supports our view that implementation has begun.'

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He said American investors are most likely to focus on the oil, transport and banking sectors.

Another American living in Phnom Penh said he also expects American suppliers of agricultural and heavy equipment to establish markets in Cambodia.

The immediate benefits of lifting the sanctions will be seen in communications and banking, the diplomat said.

'It will make communications possible, and ease the transfer of money from the U.S. to Cambodia. It will facilitate the movement of funds from American-Cambodians, from investors and money needed for U.N. operations from New York to Phnom Penh,' he said.

Meantime, the Phnom Penh government plans to meet the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) next week to establish procedures for the release of political and war prisoners, in accordance with the peace agreement.

The government's plan to release 400 prisoners Saturday and Sunday was canceled Friday night when ICRC and the U.N. chief in Cambodia, Ataul Karim, declined an invitation to witness the event, saying it violated the peace agreement.

Under article 21 of the agreement, the release of prisoners should be under the direction of ICRC which includes giving the Red Cross access to prisoners, and this had not been done, according to ICRC chief Jean- Jacques Fresard.

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'We want to see all detainees still in prison and make sure not only part of them are released but all,' Fresard said Saturday after meeting Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

'Hor Namhong repeated that the government will implement the peace agreement 100 per cent, and that includes implementing article 21,' Fresard said.

'Next week, I hope we can have a working session with the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to work this out,' said Fresard.

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