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Cambodia sails into 2007 with energized economy, devalued democracy

Cambodia sails into 2007 with energized economy, devalued democracy

The good news for 2007, according to Cambodia's government, is that the impoverished country may turn an economic corner and set the basis for sustained growth and prosperity.
The bad news, according to the government's critics, is that Prime Minister Hun Sen's regime has been so steadily chipping away at democratic freedoms that there is little chance of ensuring responsible stewardship of the nation's fortunes.
"We are looking to the future with a rosy view and optimism," chief government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said in a year-end interview.
"Our big concern is how long our democratic lifespan would last," countered Thun Sary, director of the human rights group Adhoc, who likened Cambodia to Vietnam and China as countries "that put emphasis primarily on economic growth without caring for human rights and democracy."
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla officer who has been the country's strongman since 1985, long ago mastered the art of hardline political persuasion.
But more than two decades of civil war and unrest that ended only in 1999 left the country a basket case, one of the poorest countries in Asia with a broken infrastructure and virtually no industrialization.
Cambodia took up garment manufacture and export as perhaps the one area where it had a competitive advantage _ low cost labor _ and the industry, supplying retailers in Europe and North America _ rapidly became the country's biggest export earner.
Tourism _ which has seen double digit growth over the past two years _ has become another key earner of foreign currency. A construction boom and bumper crops have also helped keep the economy buzzing.
Recently discovered offshore oil fields and a joint Australia-Japan venture to explore bauxite in the country's northeast will be important new engines for accelerating growth, said Khieu Kanharith.
It is not necessarily all smooth sailing, points out the World Bank, noting that the agricultural sector accounts for 38 percent of gross domestic product and remains volatile because of inadequate irrigation.
Production of rice _ the main staple in a country where 35 percent of its 14 million people live below the government-defined poverty line of 1,826 riel (US$0.45;


Updated : 2021-04-23 08:18 GMT+08:00