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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

US demands Cambodia pay war debt

The US, which invaded Cambodia in May 1970, bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of innocents and, in the process, creating the conditions for the emergence of the “killing fields” and ascendancy of the Khmer Rouge, is now demanding the repayment of its war loan.

Apparently, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Cambodians was quite an expensive affair. The current US ambassador says it’s time to finally pay up.

Almost half a century after dropping 500,000 tons of explosives and killing hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia, the United States seems to be demanding that the country pay back US$500 million in war debts, a move that has sparked outcry across the political spectrum in Cambodia.

“To me, Cambodia does not look like a country that should be in arrears; buildings coming up all over the city, foreign investment coming in, government revenue is rapidly rising,” William Heidt, the US ambassador to Cambodia, told local newspaper Cambodia Daily.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, the Cambodian government has been urging Washington to cancel the debt, but the ambassador dismissed any plans to do so by the new administration.

“I will say that the issue of cancellation that wasn’t on the table when I was here in the 1990s. It has never been on the table since then. So we have never discussed seriously or considered cancelling that debt with Cambodia,” he said, while also calling for a deal to be struck between the two countries for debt payment.

Speaking at a conference in early March, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former commander with the Cambodian communists, slammed the ambassador for his comments and recalled the atrocities committed by the US in the 1970s.

“They dropped bombs on our heads and then ask us to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF [International Monetary Fund] not to lend us money,” Hun Sen said. “We should raise our voices to talk about the issue of the country that has invaded other [countries] and has killed children.”

The US had given a US$274 million loan, mostly for food supplies, to the government of Lon Nol, who had taken power in a coup in 1970. The debt has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a repayment program.

As Lon Nol fought against the Khmer Rouge between 1970 and 1975, US fighter jets carried out secret carpet-bombings against the group in support of the right-wing government, killing more than 500,000 people, many of them women and children.

After the Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1975, more than two million people died as a result of political executions, disease and forced labour.

The idea that Cambodia owes the United States money is rejected by many, including those who witnessed the massacres.

“He [Heidt] has the gall to demand the ‘loans’ back even though either the Khmer Rouge or the current government have been in power since 1975, that this money was still due,” James Pringle, who served as the bureau chief for Reuters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, during the invasion of Cambodia, wrote in The Cambodia Daily.

“Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover.”

Third World Resurgence

Next article – Venezuela – Set the record straight

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