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The memories were almost too painful to bear, the killings and the maimings of decades of warfare and savage rule. Secretary of State Warren Christopher got a look at Cambodia's grim past Thursday and pledged U.S. help for a better future.

"It's horrible beyond belief," he said as he stood before a collage of human skulls in a Khmer Rouge prison turned into a memorial to that regime's victims.He also visited the Cambodian Mine Action Center, an international project to train Cambodians to remove the land mines that infest the nation - up to 10 million of them.

The center's staff estimated that one out of every 236 Cambodians, many of them children, has lost a limb as the result of a mine explosion.

"These hidden killers are a terrible scourge," said Christopher. "No nation has suffered more from mines than Cambodia."

Christopher also met with government officials and promised to press for congressional approval of most favored nation trade status for Cambodia as well as to maintain the current level of foreign aid to the Southeast Asian country. Cambodia receives $40 million in the current fiscal year.

"Congress understands the fragility of this democracy and the need to continue aid," he told a news conference.

Human rights also was part of his discussions, but the secretary of state refused to take sides in a controversy over a new Cambodian press law that bars the media from acting in a way that "is injurious to the state." Under the law, the government decides what is injurious.

Christopher flies to Vietnam Saturday to open the U.S. Embassy.