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A Host of Hopes for Obama, Even Here

As Barack Obama prepares to enter the White House as US president in January, he will be facing a list of expectations. Within Cambodia, hopes range from improved US diplomacy, trade and technical assistance from the government and better enforcement of human rights and democracy from other organizations.

Cambodia's relationship with the US was improving, even as the US economy devolved, said Kem Sithan, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce. Trade between the two reached $3 billion in 2008, up from $400 million five years ago, with Cambodia exporting nine different crops to the giant market.

"I wish that the new US president will expand diplomatic as well as economic ties, send more investors to Cambodia, and ease trade with Cambodia," he said. "Most of Cambodia's garments are exported to the US, and we wish to expand to more products."

Kuy Kuong, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he was optimistic Cambodia would be able to maintain relations with the US, as well as China, during the term of the next US president.

"Good trade between Cambodia and China would not have any impact on US-Cambodian trade," he said.

The US, meanwhile, as a superpower, should expand diplomatically and enforce peace and security, he said.

Cambodian police need US help in improving human resources, exchanging work experience, increasing study tours and improving the technical skills, such and thumb-print data, scans or X-rays, said Ministry of Interior spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak.

"This is what we want, plus many other equipment types we have seen," he said. "The counter-drug department also needs help. In short, we need training and equipment."

Police cooperation with the US has been perfect, he said, especially in counter-terrorism and information exchange, "but not enough yet."

"I hope the US will continue to help Cambodia," he said.

Obama will enter office with an unfolding global financial crisis, uncertain markets, and recession. Work to improve that situation will also help Cambodia, Khieu Sopheak said.

"The better the US economy, the more cooperation will come," he said, adding that Cambodian police needed FBI help in some cases, such as the investigation of the murder of opposition journalist Khim Sambor earlier this year, or a 1997 grenade attack on opposition supporters that killed 16 people.

Not everyone will want to see Obama put a priority on just the economy, diplomacy or security.

"Being a world superpower, the US should represent freedom and democracy," said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay. "This is the main duty for the US, and Cambodia needs the US to push for democracy."

Thun Sary, director of human rights Adhoc, appealed for the next US administration, which is currently forming under Obama, to refocus attention on human rights and democracy.

"So far the US has had a policy to enforce human rights and democracy in Cambodia," he said. "But I noticed that the US has paid less attention to these issues."

When the US reduced its emphasis on rights and democracy, he said, it had increased its political and economic ties with Cambodia.

With so many requests from so many corners of the world, Obama could enter the White House smiling, but he may not stay that way.