Almost half a century after dropping 500,000 tons of explosives and killing hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia, the United States seems to be demanding that the country pay back US$500 million in war debts, a move that sparked outcry across the political spectrum in Cambodia.
“To me, Cambodia does not look like a country that should be in arrears … buildings coming up all over the city, foreign investment coming in, government revenue is rapidly rising,” William Heidt, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, told the local newspaper Cambodia Daily.
Since the elections of President Donald Trump, the Cambodian government has been urging Washington to cancel the debt, but the ambassador dismissed any plans to do so by the new administration.
“I will say that the issue of cancellation … that wasn’t on the table when I was here in the 1990s. It has never been on the table since then. So we have never discussed seriously or considered canceling that debt with Cambodia,” he said, while also calling for a deal to be struck between the two countries for debt payment.
Speaking at a conference earlier this month, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former commander at the Marxist Khmer Rouge, slammed the ambassador for his comments and recalled the atrocities committed by the U.S. in 1970s.
WATCH: The Vietnam War
“They dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money,” Sen said according to local media. “We should raise our voices to talk about the issue of the country that has invaded other (countries) and has killed children.”
In the late 1960s the U.S. had given US$274 million loan mostly for food supplies to the then U.S.-backed Lon Nol government, who had taken over the country in a coup a year earlier. The debt has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a repayment program.
As Nol fought against the ultra-Marxist Khmer Rouge between 1970 and 1975, U.S. fighter jets carried out secret carpet-bombings against the group in support of the right-wing government killing more than 500,000 people, many of them women and children.
After Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1975, more than 2 million people died as a result of political executions, disease and forced labor.
The idea that Cambodia owed the United States money is being rejected by many including those who witnessed the massacres.
“He (Heidt) has the gall to demand the “loans” back even though either the Khmer Rouge or the current government have been in power since 1975, that this money was still due,” James Pringle, who served as the bureau chief for Reuters in the Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh City during the invasion of Cambodia, wrote for The Cambodia Daily.
“Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the U.S. for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover.”