The United States government has asked Cambodia to repay a loan made to the Lon Nol
regime, while China has written off a loan it made to the Khmer Rouge.
Should Cambodia repay the U.S.'s loan to the corrupt Lon Nol regime? Should Cambodia
thank China for writing off its loan, which was used to help the Khmer
Rouge come to power and then commit genocide?
March 17, 1970, the day on which pro-American General Lon Nol staged a coup, overthrowing
the head of state, then Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was a turning point for Cambodia.
Prince Sihanouk went into exile in China and appealed to Cambodians from all walks
of life to struggle against the Lon Nol regime.
In late April 1970, without concern for Cambodian sovereignty, U.S. President Richard
Nixon launched an American invasion of Cambodia hoping to protect American soldiers,
accomplish his Vietnamization program, and eliminate communist headquarters.
According to Eva Mysliwiec in Punishing the Poor: The International Isolation of
Kampuchea, the U.S. sought to achieve these goals by dropping, between 1969 to 1973,
an estimated 550,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, "about twenty-five times the
explosive force of the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima, and three and one-half
times as many bombs as were dropped on Japan during World War II".
As Mysliwiec notes, "Nearly half the population was uprooted, and Cambodians
became refugees in their own country. One out of every ten Cambodians was killed
in the war - mostly from US bombing and suicide missions sent by Lon Nol to repel
The bombing created the opposite of what was intended. The more bombs the U.S. dropped
on Cambodia, the stronger the communist Khmer Rouge became. Communist military headquarters
were hardly destroyed or even found. The bombings killed innocent civilians and angered
the survivors, leading them to overtly and covertly join the Khmer Rouge, which then
came to power, in April 1975. U.S. foreign policy and its military actions thus contributed
significantly to the Khmer Rouge genocide .
The horrendous genocide ended only when the Vietnamese invaded. Finding a common
strategic interest for the first time, the U.S. and China provided military support
for the Khmer Rouge to continue fighting against the Vietnamese troops occupying
For the past three decades, especially during the genocidal regime of Khmer Rouge,
Cambodia and her people have suffered unspeakable horrors. Neither the nation nor
her people have fully recovered from these horrors, which include the death of almost
two million people. One of the most lethal legacies facing Cambodia today is landmines,
which were supplied by China, Russia and the U.S. during the war. Between 4 and 6
million landmines still litter the countryside, killing or injuring about 100 people
a month. Today, Cambodia has more than 40,000 amputees. Many of them rely on begging
While some financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF are conducting
a policy of debt relief in some poor countries, it is ridiculous to hear the U.S.
government demand that Cambodia repay the loan made to the Lon Nol regime. This demand
is particularly outrageous because the loan did not benefit the majority of the Cambodian
people; what most Cambodians received was endless and merciless bombing by the U.S.
air force, killing, terrorizing and destroying untold Cambodian lives and the Cambodian
economy. Cambodians knew that most of the loan money went directly into the pockets
of relentlessly corrupt Lon Nol government officials. The U.S. government also knew
and yet kept its mouth shut, probably to ensure that Lon Nol officials did not criticize
the U.S. bombing.
Now, is it fair for a rich country like the United States to make a country like
Cambodia repay such a loan that is believed to be nearly $300 million? It is absurd.
After WWII, the U.S. developed the Marshall plan to help rebuild a new Europe. In
my opinion, instead of demanding that Cambodia repay the loan, the U.S. government
should help Cambodia recover through the rebuilding of its infrastructure - including
roads, railroad, and bridges - and its agricultural sector, both of which were severely
damaged by the war and have functioned
poorly ever since.