>Top US official to meet Cambodia’s PM to boost relations

>John Negroponte(L) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Visiting US deputy secretary of state John Negroponte was set to hold talks Monday with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, aiming to improve relations between the two countries, embassy officials said.

They will preside over a signing ceremony for an agreement in which the United States will provide 24 million dollars to fund economic growth projects in Cambodia, the US embassy said.

Negroponte is also scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The visit is seen as the latest indication that Cambodia’s star is on the rise with the United States, after years in the diplomatic wilderness.

“His visit is a sign of our strengthening bilateral relationship and will serve to deepen the ties between our two countries,” an embassy spokesman said.

The United States recently lifted a decade-old ban on direct funding to Cambodia’s government and re-established military ties between the countries two years ago, with the promise of limited military aid.

Since then, at least three senior US military commanders have visited Cambodia and in February last year the USS Gary became the first US warship to visit the former communist country in more than 30 years.

The moves, which come amid rising concern over China’s influence in the region, reverse Washington’s restrictive funding policies put in place after Hun Sen seized total control of the government in a 1997 coup.

Washington has been one of the government’s most vocal critics in a number of areas, including corruption and human rights abuses.

But the United States has praised Cambodia for its anti-terrorism efforts following the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Negroponte arrived Sunday for his three-day visit and began with a tour of the famed Angkor temples in the northwest of the country.

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