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Most Cambodians Satisfied with Country's Direction

IRI's Cambodia country director John Willis, who says a new survey shows around three-quarters of Cambodians are satisfied with the direction the country is taking

A new survey by the International Republican Institute, a U.S. organization, says three-quarters of Cambodians are satisfied with the direction their country is taking. Those who disagree say corruption is their key complaint.

The survey by the International Republican Institute - or IRI - found that 76 percent of Cambodians said they were satisfied with the way things are going.

They cited infrastructure improvements such as better roads, schools and health clinics.

The IRI, which works to advance democracy, released the results in Phnom Penh on Friday.

"This is a bit of a decline from a peak of 82 percent direction two years ago, but still pretty high by worldwide standards," said John Willis, the country head for the IRI, which is funded largely by grants from the United States government.

Willis notes that nearly a quarter of respondents think Cambodia is headed in the wrong direction.

"And people who say the country’s moving in the wrong direction, which was 23 percent, overwhelmingly they are likely to say it’s corruption - that’s their number one response - followed by jobs, poverty, inflation," he said.

IRI carried out the survey in mid-2010, questioning 2,000 adults.

The survey also found that Cambodians think the biggest issue the country faces is its efforts to set its borders with Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia is working with both nations to agree on thousands of kilometers of borders. Tensions with Thailand over the subject have been high in recent years, and soldiers from both sides have died in border clashes.

Some farmers complained they are losing land to Vietnam, a charge that stings the government in Phnom Penh, which has close ties to Hanoi.

"It was an open-ended question - we just asked what’s the biggest issue facing the country in your opinion? We didn’t lead them by the nose toward any kinds of responses. So freely chosen, over a third of the people said: It’s a border issue," he said.

The survey also asked people about land ownership, an important topic in country with a largely rural population.

Half of the rural respondents say they own less than a hectare of land, and most lack sufficient irrigation for their crops.

Seven percent said someone had tried to steal their land in the past three years. Many landowners and rights groups say the rich and powerful often force farmers off land to make way for development.

A government spokesman was not available to comment on the survey, but human rights groups regularly complain that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

They say the government is intolerant of criticism, and uses court cases and threats to cow its critics.

The IRI findings suggest those concerns resonate less - at least for now - with many Cambodians who are trying to eke out a living on the land.