There’s a Khmer saying that goes: “If you point your finger at others, the other four fingers actually point at yourself.”
During the landmark first visit by a serving US leader to Cambodia, America may have had no time to pay tribute to Norodom Sihanouk, the father of the Cambodian nation, but it didn’t forget to talk about Cambodia’s debt and preach to it about human rights.
Concerning the “bloody debt” that was perceived by most Cambodians, US ambassador to Cambodia William Todd recently made a further clarification that this perception was in fact based on “misunderstanding” and “misinformation” because the debt “arose from shipments of agri-cultural commodities”.
Todd also described Cambodia as being “unwilling to pay” compared with, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a statement on February 14, 2008 by Kirk Miller, of the US Department of Agriculture, during a hearing before the House of Representatives, Cambodian officials had confirmed in writing in February, 2006 that Cambodia owed the US $162 million in principal.
If interest is included, the total amount owed as of now may well have risen to approximately $400 million, as has been reported by the media.
We are not trying to shrug off the previous administration’s legacy and ignore our current human-rights situation, which is not perfect.
But to keep things on an equal basis, I believe many Cambodians would also want to hear the US talk about war compensation, an apology and its own human-rights practices in Cambodia during the early 1970s.
More than two million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Cambodian soil, and this act alone denied Cambodian people’s right to life itself.
Was it not a human-rights issue when inocent Cambodians had to run for their lives to shelter from this carpet bombing?
If we make a simple calculation of the destructive power of one tonne of bombs, we can come up with a figure for the cost of this destruction that could
easily exceed Cambodia’s debt of $400 million.
Although it is perhaps an unfair comparison, the US is still in a better position than Cambodia because the debt is refundable, but the loss of the families of Cambodian people can never be refunded.
Nowadays there is none of the “fog of war” that Robert S. McNamara, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon experienced during the 1970s.
So, as a member of the post-war generation, I earnestly hope the US can view Cambodia in a better light and that it will try to understand more about Cambodia and its people by learning from the past so both nations can look forward to enhanced bilateral relations.
Cambodian people can be very forgiving, but we will never forget the pain of our recent history.