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As U.S. Envoy Visits Cambodia, NGOs Raise Concerns Over Proposed Aid Budget Cuts

In this photo released by Thai Foreign Ministry, American charge d’affairs in Bangkok, W. Patrick Murphy, left, talks with Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwi during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

W. Patrick Murphy met Cambodia’s foreign minister, members of the opposition, civil society groups and the private sector.

Civil society groups said it was too early to conclude that U.S.-Cambodia relations were in dire straights following a visit to the country by a senior diplomat last month in the wake of the leaking of a draft budget that could see the superpower’s development assistance to Cambodia canceled if approved.

During his one-day visit to Phnom Penh last month, W. Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, met Cambodia’s foreign minister, members of the opposition, civil society groups and the private sector.

Thida Khus, executive director of Silaka, a women’s rights NGO, said Murphy had discussed electoral reform and human rights issues.

“We also asked him about the US’s foreign policy under the Trump administration, and he said that the United States still emphasizes good relations with Southeast Asian countries,” she said.

“We are keeping a close eye on the news about the [possible] US foreign aid reductions. No one is sure about it as it is still under discussion,” she added.

However, in a separate meeting with members of the media, Murphy said there was “a lot of discussion and deliberation on how that budget should be formulated at a later stage.”

“Trade for the United States is very important, and the new administration places importance on trade, and that is no exception. It's been important for the United States’ economy for a long time. And, this Southeast Asia region, Asean as a collective is an important trading partner of the United States.” he said.

The concern over apparently deteriorating relations comes after Cambodia canceled a major military exercise with the United States, postponed a U.S. Navy mission in the country indefinitely, and railed against what the government claimed was a U.S.-backed conspiracy to undermine the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen.