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PM to Trump: Forgive debt

Prime Minister Hun Sen greets supporters during an event in Preah Sihanouk on Saturday, where he called for the US to cancel Cambodia’s hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. Photo Supplied
Prime Minister Hun Sen greets supporters during an event in Preah Sihanouk on Saturday, where he called for the US to cancel Cambodia’s hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. Photo Supplied

PM to Trump: Forgive debt

Prime Minister Hun Sen has once again called for the US to cancel the hundreds of millions of dollars in debt incurred to the nation by the 1970s Lon Nol regime, this time appealing directly to Donald Trump to erase the obligation once he is inaugurated as president on January 20.

Lon Nol’s regime – which governed after Prince Norodom Sihanouk was ousted as head of state in March 1970, but fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975 – incurred the debts in exchange for items including flour, cotton and rice during the civil war.

Speaking at the 5th annual Sea Festival in Sihanoukville on Saturday, Hun Sen cast his mind back to Cambodia’s 1970s civil war.

“I again call on the United States to reconsider the debts that were borrowed by the Lon Nol regime,” Hun Sen said, explaining that he believed he was being charitable by asking only for the debt to be cancelled and not for war reparations from the US.

From 1965 to 1973, the US is estimated to have dropped some 2.75 million tonnes of ordnance on Cambodia. Some historians believe the aerial campaigns helped the Khmer Rouge, for whom Hun Sen fought during the 1970s civil war, gain more popularity and seize power.

“We do not demand that the US pay for the destruction during the war made by the US, but we just want the US to be responsible for the debt that is a ‘dirty debt,’” Hun Sen said on Saturday. “I am hoping that Donald Trump will consider this carefully.”

Hun Sen also said no one could be certain the US had even delivered what it promised in exchange for the debts, which a US official in 2010 said totalled $445 million. The US has long said some of the debts must be paid before it can consider debt forgiveness.

However, David Josar, a spokesman for the US Embassy, said in an email yesterday he could not comment on what the future Trump administration might do about Cambodia’s outstanding debts.

So Chantha, a political analyst, said that he doubted the US would consider cancelling Cambodia’s debts so long as the government continues to thumb its nose at the US on issues like human rights.

“I think Cambodia would have to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and I think then we can negotiate with the United States to drop the debts from that time,” Chantha said.

“In principle, Cambodia must pay its debts, but sometimes it can depend on our foreign policies and how close we get to the USA. [If we are close] then we can talk about debt cancellation,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALEX WILLEMYNS

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