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Cambodia Gets New Government

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his new coalition government were voted into office on Monday, ending 17 months of crisis since the previous administration collapsed in violence.

With armed police and bodyguards maintaining tight security around parliament, Hun Sen and his coalition cabinet were approved 99-13 by the 122-seat National Assembly. Three lawmakers abstained, six were absent, and one vote was declared invalid.

Hun Sen told reporters that reclaiming Cambodia's seat at the United Nations and gaining entry to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would be among his first initiatives.

The prime minister hopes the formation of a new government will help restore Cambodia's international standing, which plummeted last year after he deposed his co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody coup.

"I hope the U.N. will keep its promise to give back Cambodia's seat and ASEAN will admit Cambodia as a member after a government is fully formed," Hun Sen said.

ASEAN members are reportedly divided on Cambodia's prospects for entry at the group's annual meeting next month in Hanoi. Vietnam, which supports Hun Sen, strongly supports quick entry, while the Philippines and Singapore have indicated they hope to see signs of stability first.

Ten ministers have retained their posts in the new administration, but Hun Sen promised his team would implement sweeping changes to put the struggling country on a path to prosperity.

"I must respond to the expectations of you and the people, who want to see a new government function better and be stronger and more effective than before," Hun Sen told the assembly before the vote.

Anti-corruption measures, judicial independence, economic reforms, a streamlined civil service, protection of the environment, and respect for human rights were all promised.

The statement read like a laundry list of concerns voiced by foreign donors and investors, whose generosity is vital for the desperately poor nation to function.

"The royal government will change the priorities in the use of the national budget to serve areas that support production and areas that that are favorable for private investment, social affairs, and public health," Hun Sen said.

Economists say the new government faces a host of daunting challenges and must implement reforms and direct more resources into health, education and agriculture.

The poverty-stricken country has been spending up to 50 percent of its annual budget on security. Political analysts say the virtual demise of the Khmer Rouge rebel group gives the coalition a golden opportunity to redirect public funds.

After last year's coup, the prince and most of his ministers fled Cambodia and did not return until a few months before the elections.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won, but a political crisis followed when parties led by Ranariddh and oppositioleader Sam Rainsy alleged fraud and violence and denied Hun Sen the two-thirds vote in parliament necessary to approve a government.

Ranariddh, bowing to what he described as intense international pressure, broke the stalemate Nov. 13 with a coalition deal that made the prince president of the National Assembly and gave his party nearly half the positions in the Cabinet.

Hun Sen's party, however, has retained tight control of fiscal and administrative functions, heading the ministries of finance, commerce, foreign affairs, planning, industry, and agriculture.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report