Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said yesterday that he asked US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a face-to-face meeting this week to forgive US loans dating back to the Lon Nol regime of the early 1970s.
Speaking at the Phnom Penh International Airport, Mr Namhong did not say if Mrs Clinton gave him a reply, but his request echoed that of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who last month reiterated his call for the US to cancel more than $300 million in debt taken on by the US-backed Khmer Republic.
“I told her the US should consider demolishing this loan and if it could not demolish the loan it should write it off as humanitarian aid,” Mr Namhong said.
The minister returned to Cambodia yesterday morning after a nearly weeklong trip to the US, during which he also spoke before the UN General Assembly. Mr Namhong said the discussions with US officials were cordial overall and he remained optimistic about Cambodian-US relations.
“The cooperation between Cambodia and the US was good and I am proud of this cooperation as it continues from day to day,” he said.
Spokesman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh John Johnson confirmed the Monday meeting in New York between Mr Namhong and Mrs Clinton and stated in an e-mail that the pair “discussed the full range of bilateral issues, including democracy and human rights, law enforcement cooperation, recent progress at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and bilateral debt.”
He added that regional issues concerning US engagement with neighboring countries such as Burma were also discussed.
Yesterday, Mr Namhong told reporters that Mrs Clinton, who has also met with embattled SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua in recent weeks, stated that respect for human rights in Cambodia has improved over the past decades but urged for that progress to continue. Mr Namhong added that civil society and opposition lawmakers are free in Cambodia but they must respect the nation’s laws.
“I told Mrs Clinton that there should be a division between defamation and freedom of expression,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Frank Radosevich)