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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US demand that Cambodia repay war-time debt is immoral

US demand that Cambodia repay war-time debt is immoral

Cambodia borrowed $274 million from the United States to buy American rice, wheat, oil and cotton during the Lon Nol regime. These loans were made to supporthumanitarian efforts to save Cambodian refugees from starvation after they fled to Phnom Penh under the communist advance as well as US bombings in the countryside.

The war between 1970 and 1975 in Cambodia, the US bombings and the humanitarian loans were parts of a larger historical event leading to the Khmer Rouge genocide, which killed 2 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. In the 1970s the US bombed northern and eastern parts of Cambodia with 500,000 tonnes of explosives to destroy the Khmer Rouge hiding places and later to slow down their advance on Phnom Penh. Most of the time, the carpet bombings did not hit the targets. This bombing campaign killed thousands of civilians forcing survivors to flee from their villages to join the Khmer Rouge or to the Lon Nol regime in Phnom Penh.

Because of this same bombing, Phnom Penh was flooded with refugees who needed to be fed, clothed and sheltered. America should consider the $274 million loan as wartime humanitarian relief rather a debt borrowed by an illegitimate government, gaining in size every year and now stands at nearly half a billion dollar.

In the 42-year period since the collapse of the Lon Nol regime, Cambodia was under the Khmer Rouge genocide, producing no economic products and services, struggled to rebuild itself in the 1980s with limited international assistance, and began introducing democracy in the 1990s.

To think that America would use these years to calculate interest of the debt is outrageous. To many Cambodians, the Lon Nol war was ignited by America, assisted directly by America and therefore America owed Cambodia for the loss of lives, the damage to the economy and physical and psychological wounds the war inflicted on Cambodia. This debt should not even be brought up today.

In contrast, Cambodia is in fact expecting a much larger humanitarian assistance at the present time from the US government, rather than demands of half a billion dollars from a poor country that needs to concentrate on areas such as health care, education, infrastructure, mine clearance and rehabilitation.

Cambodia is open to any negotiation with the US government.

Sous Yara is a CPP lawmaker and spokesman

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