Prime Minister Hun Sen revisited a wedge issue between Cambodia and the US on Tuesday, complaining about the approximately $500 million in Vietnam War-era debt accumulated under the Lon Nol regime still owed to the superpower.
Speaking on the outskirts of Phnom Penh during the inauguration of a Japan-funded bridge on National Road 1, the premier criticized an unnamed “foreign” nation for dropping countless bombs on Cambodia.
“Just during the construction of the Tsubasa [Bridge], we needed to dive and demine the unexploded ordnances lying in the riverbed,” he said.
The premier accused America of lending money to Lon Nol, who took power in a coup and had close ties with the United States, to buy bombs that were then dropped on Cambodia.
“The most difficult thing is that they hit us with the axe, then they ask us to pay for the axe . . . That means the loan is bombs dropped on our country,” he said.
Hun Sen contrasted America’s treatment of Cambodia with Japan’s generosity, and said the Kingdom should have friends but remain in control of its own destiny. While the US has pulled financial support for the National Election Committee and other programs, and imposed some visa sanctions, the Japanese government continues to support the NEC.
In a response to the premier’s remarks on Tuesday, the US Embassy characterised the debt owed as “agricultural” in nature.
“There have been no substantive discussions of the debt over the past year, but we are ready to engage at any time with Cambodia,” a spokesman said.
Recent bipartisan legislation proposed to the Senate, however, would prohibit any discussions on debt relief until the political situation returns to normal – with the CNRP reinstated and opposition leader Kem Sokha released.
Momentarily veering off topic, the premier also claimed Ohio University in America had made an “official request” for a copy of the government-produced “documentary” released earlier this year called Marching Towards National Salvation, which highlights the premier’s “liberation” of the country from the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s subsequent development.
Critics panned the film, which was widely broadcast, as blatant propaganda at a time when the government was cracking down on its only legitimate political opposition.
A university representative was unable to confirm the request by press time.