PRIME Minister Hun Sen has said that he would appeal to US President Barack Obama to cancel more than US$300 million in “dirty debt” accrued by the Lon Nol regime in the 1970s.
Speaking at the inauguration of Prek Phnov bridge on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the premier said he would make the request when he meets Obama during this week’s ASEAN-US summit in New York.
“I will tell the US that the 1970-75 debt is considered as dirty debt and ask them to cancel it,” Hun Sen said. “If it is dirty debt how can we pay it? Even the bank will cancel this.”
The debt, which amounts to an estimated $445 million, was incurred by the republican regime that came to power in a 1970 coup backed by Washington, which showered the government with military and economic aid.
Cambodia has long opposed repayment of the debt, which it says fuelled the country’s civil war with the Khmer Rouge.
US officials, however, have said Cambodia is merely being held to the same standards as other countries.
“Our position on that debt is the same as our position on bilateral debt we have with any other country, which is that the government should come to the table, sign the agreement and start making payments,” US Ambassador Carol Rodley said in an interview in July.
An embassy spokesman said that under international law, governments are “generally responsible for the obligations of their predecessors”.
“We have made some proposals that we think would help resolve the issue consistent with our overall commitment to support Cambodia’s economic modernisation,” the spokesman said, and added that such an arrangement would “enhance Cambodia’s creditworthiness and ability to access international capital markets”.
ASEAN leaders are scheduled to meet with President Obama in New York on Friday. As planned, Hun Sen will also hold sideline talks with his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva to discuss the ongoing border dispute between the two nations, before returning to Cambodia on Sunday.