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US Ambassador to Cambodia Criticized for Demanding Repayment of Wartime Debt

The United States is under fire for asking Cambodia to repay its wartime debts.

US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt recently reminded the Cambodian government about a US$500 million loan that the US provided to prop up its one-time ally in the 1970s, according to the Cambodia Daily.

“Until [Cambodia] takes care of its debt with America and its other creditors, it cannot have a normal relationship with the IMF,” Ambassador Heidt warned, the news source reports.

The remark has drawn severe criticism from many directions.

“The US created problems in my country and is demanding money from me,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told the Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Development Conference earlier this month, reports the Cambodia Daily in another article. “They dropped bombs on our heads and then they ask us to repay”.

Several outside observers are in agreement with Prime Minister Sen, including James Pringles, a former Reuters correspondent who witnessed the US bombing of Cambodia.

“Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover,” he wrote in an opinion piece published by the Daily.

According to a study of the American bombing campaign in Cambodia, 2,756,941 tons of ordnance were dropped on the country between 1965 and 1973, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties. Many of these bombs didn't explode on impact, only to kill unsuspecting civilians long after the war ended. The conflict turned the Cambodian population against the pro-US Marshal Lon Nol government, paving the way for the rise of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

In the early 1970s, the US began sending Nol cotton, flour and rice (worth US$274 million in total) a sum that has doubled since then thanks to interest.

Vietnam also faced similar demands from the US back in the 1990s, an issue that was resolved by Hanoi’s agreement to inherit US$140 million in debt incurred by the Saigon regime. An opinion piece written by Calvin Godfrey for VnExpress, however, notes the forgotten promise of former US president Richard Nixon to send Vietnam US$4.7 million to spend on post-conflict reparations.

[Photo via Aces Flying High]

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