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Western Lifestyle Flourishes In Cambodia With UN Mission With AM-Cambodia, Bjt

May 25, 1993

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Cambodia’s capital has become a mere shadow of its former communist self.

Western cultural trappings - and ostentation - have flooded the city as a result of economic reforms, the end of communism and the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers with relatively fat allowances of $130 a day.

Mercedes, Peugeots and Toyotas glide alongside trishaws and water buffalo, running almost all the Soviet-made Ladas out of town. The upper class, which struggled with irregular telephone service, has discovered cellular phones.

American movies, such as ″ET,″ can be seen in hotels that didn’t exist when Cambodia’s four factions signed a 1991 peace accord to end 13 years of civil war and authorize this week’s elections.

″Usually a country which is emerging from civil war does not develop quickly but rather step by step,″ says Phat Pisey, 22, an economics student at Phnom Penh University.

The Vietnam-installed government started encouraging private enterprise and ownership in 1988. It sped up the reforms after the Vietnamese withdrew in 1989 in a bid for foreign investment and domestic popularity. It also renounced communism.

The arrival in March 1992 of 22,000 U.N. personnel to guide the country to elections accelerated the process.

Little has changed for most Cambodians, who live in the countryside and are poor. But after years of having nothing to spend their money on, richer Phnom Penh residents are snapping up motorcycles, cars, video players, and Western films.

Janet Ashby, of Carbondale, Ill., a member of the relief group Lutheran World Service, said when she arrived in 1990 Cambodians did not have modern conveniences. ″It was a seige mentality,″ she says.

Foreign entrepreneurs have opened video rental shops and imported everything from microwave pizza to frozen cheesecake. Bars, pasta houses and ethnic restaurants have sprung up.

There is also hope that with peaceful elections and political stability, tourists will return. Pre-election violence, including attacks near the fabled temples of Angkor Wat, have virtually halted all tourism.

Many entrepreneurs have already made back their investments and are prepared to leave with U.N. peacekeepers after the election.

But some investors, mostly Cambodian-Americans, plan to stay to encourage the new Western lifestyle after the U.N. mission pulls out starting in August.

Sam Oum, a 41-year-old Cambodian-American from Long Beach, Calif., expects to lose 60 percent of his business at Phnom Penh’s most popular fast-food joint, McSam Burger Restaurant.

But he believes Cambodians will get hooked on burgers, fries and chicken nuggets. ″Fast-food ... is a way of life. I think fast food is here to stay,″ he said.

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