The Bush administration bowed to congressional pressure by imposing tight restrictions on U.S. aid to Cambodia that would not fund the ruthless Khmer Rouge or finance any military efforts.
Instead, an estimated $7 million in U.S. aid will be used to buy badly needed shelter and medical and food supplies for thousands of Cambodians.The money would be in addition to the $10 million the government has provided for Cambodian children during fiscal 1991.
The contentious issue over aid to Cambodia became ignited last fall when reports, some produced by the administration itself, said that U.S. aid was being netted by the Khmer Rouge and used for non-lethal military supplies helpful to obstruct the sitting communist government.
Monday's announcement by the State Department was meant to defuse the acrimonious debate between Congress and the White House.
"It's a program for non-communist areas that would be exclusively for non-military purposes," said spokesman Richard Boucher.
Last fall, Congress argued that U.S. aid was being tilted toward the Khmer Rouge. Lawmakers urged President Bush to review the flow of money and to correct the problem.
The administration sent a team of investigators to Cambodia and followed with a report indicating that some of the money was being collected by the non-communist Khmer Rouge.
But the White House defended the aid program by saying the money was siphoned off by the military group and contended that the few incidents did not constitute a "pattern" of abuse.
Many lawmakers believed otherwise and asked the administration to devise a different distribution scheme.
One State Department official said Monday he was confident that the aid, to be doled out by the Agency for International Development, will not fall into the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
"We will do everything we can to assure that doesn't happen," he said.
A Senate staff member familiar with the program, called the administration's decision "a more evenhanded approach between the different (government) factions in Cambodia."