Cambodia as US asks to be paid back hundreds of
millions in war debts
By Lindsay Murdoch
March 14, 2017 "Information
- Half a century after United States B-52 bombers
dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on
Cambodia's countryside Washington wants the country
to repay a $US500 million ($662 million) war debt.
has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage
from Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.
Over 200 nights in 1973 alone, 257,456 tons of
explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps –
half as many as were dropped on Japan during the
Second World War.
The pilots flew at such great heights they were
incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian
village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply
lines – nicknamed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail."
The bombs were of such massive tonnage they blew out
eardrums of anyone standing within a 1-kilometre
War correspondent James Pringle was two kilometres
away from a B-52 strike near Cambodia's border.
"It felt like the world was coming to an end," he
According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000
Cambodians were killed, many of them children.
The bombings drove hundreds of thousands of ordinary
Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, an
ultra-Marxist organisation which seized power in
1975 and over the next four years presided over the
deaths of more than almost two million people
through starvation disease and execution.
The debt started out as a US$274 million loan mostly
for food supplies to the then US-backed Lon Nol
government but has almost doubled over the years as
Cambodia refused to enter into a re-payment program.
William Heidt, the US's ambassador in Phnom Penh,
said Cambodia's failure to pay back the debt puts it
in league with Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
"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," Mr Heidt was quoted as
saying by the Cambodia Daily.
"I'm saying it is in Cambodia's interest not to look
to the past, but to look at how to solve this
because it's important to Cambodia's future," he
said, adding that the US has never seriously
considered cancelling the debt.
strongman prime minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer
Rouge commander who defected to Vietnam, hit back,
saying "The US created problems in my country and is
demanding money from me."
"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,"
he told an international conference in early March.
"We should raise our voices to talk about the issue
of the country that has invaded other (countries)
and has killed children."
Mr Pringle, a former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi
Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia with an iron-fist
for three decades.
But he said on this matter he is "absolutely
"Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US
for help in destroying its people, its wild animals,
its rice fields and forest cover," he wrote in the
American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few
correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge's
genocide, has also written that the US "owes
Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in
Mr Hun Sen pointed out that craters still dot the
Cambodian countryside and villagers are still
unearthing bombs, forcing mass evacuations until
they can be deactivated.
"There are a lot of grenades and bombs left. That's
why so often Cambodian children are killed, because
they don't know that they are unexploded ordnance,"
"And who did it? It's America's bombs and grenades."
A diplomat posted in Phnom Penh between 1971 and
1974 told Fairfax Media the food the US supplied
Cambodia came from excess food stocks.
"I remember well that shipments of maize were made,"
"Cambodians do not eat maize so it was fed to the
He pointed out that the US refused to normalise
relations with Vietnam until it accepted to take on
the US debt of the former southern regime.
views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of Information Clearing