Prime Minister Hun Sen has once again called for the United States to drop the debt Cambodia incurred during the 1970s Lon Nol regime, just days after US Ambassador William Heidt said in no uncertain terms that the US had no such plans.
Hun Sen, speaking at the inauguration of a new temple yesterday, noted that “now we have found not just cluster bombs but also chemical bombs”, referring to recently uncovered US-made tear gas canisters.
“President Donald Trump, I do not understand what you are thinking, hitting Khmers and now ask Khmers to pay the debt,” he added.
He also called on the other political parties to support the request, but remarked that “the opposition party will not support, I believe, because it is the United States’ subordinate”.
According to a recording obtained by The Post, US Ambassador Heidt last Friday told local reporters that the US had “never seriously discussed or considered cancelling the debt”, though they were willing to “[work] out a deal that works for both sides”. He also noted that the government’s inaction on the issue was “not in Cambodia’s best interest”, noting the situation remained unchanged from his days as an economic officer in Phnom Penh in the 1990s.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, for his part, insisted that the opposition would also seek to have the debt cancelled, but maintained “there should be more focus on debt to Russia and other debt as well”.
Political analyst So Chantha, meanwhile, said the government did not seem to understand that “the US may want Cambodia to strengthen the rule of law, democracy and human rights principles” in return for cancelling the debt.
The premier also called on microfinance institutions to ensure that prospective borrowers know they are borrowing from the private sector, saying that many mistakenly believe the loans to be from state banks, “leading to claims that the state has taken their houses or lands”.
In Channy, president of ACLEDA bank, said the misunderstanding also affects banks themselves, as borrowers may not repay loans believed to be state-borrowed. However, he added: “Our credit officers tell the borrowers that the money is from the bank, not the state.”
Hun Sen also accused unnamed politicians of making empty promises to cancel villagers’ debt, warning that legal action would be taken against such propaganda in future.