Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cambodian PM vows to discuss 'dirty debt' with US

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday he would urge the United States during an upcoming visit to write off a "dirty debt" of more than 300 million dollars dating back to the 1970s.

The low-interest loans were given to the government of General Lon Nol after it came to power in a US-backed coup in 1970.

The United States was the main financial and military supporter of Lon Nol's regime until it was toppled by the Khmer Rouge movement in April 1975.

Officially, the loans were to develop the country's agriculture sector and boost commodities exports.

But Hun Sen said the money paid for bombs which were "dropped on our heads" in the early 1970s by US forces targeting Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

"I will talk with the US about the debt," the premier said in a speech on national radio, ahead of his trip to New York for a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders on September 24.

"I would like (the US) to write it off. How can we pay back the dirty debt?" he added.

The two countries have long disagreed about repayment of the debt and Cambodia has argued the money was spent on arms which were ultimately used on its own people.

The early 1970s saw a heavy bombing campaign by US forces on the country, and the Cambodian government says these bombs were at least partially paid for with the loan money.

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