Opinion: Cambodia Owes Absolutely Nothing to US for War ‘Loans’

James Pringle was a bureau chief for Reuters in Ho Chi Minh City, covering the invasion of Cambodia and ongoing fighting in Vietnam.

No one who knows me would call me a supporter of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Usually, he greets any attempt I make to ask a question with a snarl, though once he talked to foreign correspondents quite openly.

However, in the case of Americans killing children, women and men in Cambodia (and in Vietnam and Laos), “Prime Minister Rails Against Deaths of Children in US Wars” (March 2), I can say that Mr. Hun Sen is absolutely correct. During the Vietnam War, Americans killed children with abandon over Cambodia, and the other two countries of Indochina.

cam photo US debt
US warplane drop bombs over Cambodia in 1973

Children are still killed, especially in Laos, by unexploded ordnance. In the early stages of the Cambodia war, as the Reuters bureau chief in Saigon, I was down in southern Cambodia, somewhere near Prey Veng province, with the late Mark Frankland of the Observer. I was on a route covered with women and children fleeing what seemed to be fighting and bombing.

Nearby, a Lon Nol wirelessman was trying to talk by radio to an American in what I remember was an (North American Rockwell) OV-10 Bronco, a small turboprop and light attack observation aircraft, which also had some weapons aboard. The American pilot was engaged in spotting out the Vietcong, who seemed to be in combat with Lon Nol forces. Then he would call in the U.S. Air Force.

The radio man, who could scarcely speak English, was having trouble understanding the U.S. pilot and asked me to speak to the American flyer. I told the pilot I was on the ground just below his plane. He said: “I’m observing a big movement of people on the road down there, and I’m wondering if these are communist elements.”

I told the pilot that the people running along the road were not armed and, as I was down on the ground, I could see that they were frightened civilians, including many children.  When he asked me who I was, I told him I was a Reuters correspondent covering the war, and what I saw would be put on the wire afterward. He seemed to accept what I was saying and veered off to look for other targets.

Just recently, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt claimed that Cambodia owed the U.S. something in the region of $500 million for ‘‘assistance” given to Cambodia’s Lon Nol government during the war, “US Hits Back at Government Over $500 Million Debt, Democracy” (February 6).

He 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.

“So to me, I think that is unfortunate. I think that’s not in Cambodia’s best interest to keep letting that grow forever,” Mr. Heidt said.

What are you going to give in return, Mr. Heidt? Will you resurrect the children and others who died under that terrible American pounding from the air over the years?

I was once just inside Cambodia about 2 km from a U.S. B-52 bomber strike and it felt like the world was coming to an end. Three kilometers is meant to be the limit.

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. If people nowadays are still slaughtering animals and destroying more forest, then that is a matter the Cambodians should deal with themselves.

But the U.S. should quit bombing Yemen along with the murderous Saudis.

As author and journalist Elizabeth Becker pointed out recently in this paper: “The U.S. owes Cambodia much more in war debts that can be repaid in cash.”

Trust that foreign correspondents here continue to question Mr. Hun Sen, though he refuses to answer without expressing anger. That is what we are about.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Cambodia Daily.

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