Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cambodia hits back at U.S. over graft comments

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs on Tuesday after Washington's ambassador said the impoverished nation was losing up to $500 million a year through corruption.

Cambodia's foreign ministry urged diplomats to "refrain from interfering" after the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, Carol Rodley, said rampant graft was preventing the country from developing its public services, education and healthcare.

"(The government) wishes to remind all members of the diplomatic corps to maintain their neutrality and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia," the ministry said in a statement.

Cambodia's anti-graft chief, Om Yentieng, said Rodley's remarks, made on Saturday at an anti-corruption concert in Phnom Penh, were an attempt to undermine a government which had the support of the people.

"If the ruling party had acted in such a way, we would not have gained votes and continued to stay in power," Yentieng told reporters.

A report last year by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, placing it 14th among 180 nations studied.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Martin Petty and Sugita Katyal)

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