After meeting with government officials yesterday, US Ambassador to Asean Scot Marciel said his country cannot cancel the government’s outstanding wartime debt.
Following Mr Marciel’s meeting with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, the Foreign Ministry announced earlier in the day that Cambodia had called on the US either to forgive the debt or convert 70 percent of payments to bilateral aid.
Mr Marciel also said the he had reiterated in meetings that the US was “very disappointed” with Cambodia’s decision in December to deport 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers back to China over the objections of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Human Rights Watch said last month the deportees have since disappeared in China.
Speaking to reporters at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, Mr Marciel said debt forgiveness would take an act of the US legislature.
“It’s not something that the administration can do,” he said.
Between 1972 and 1974, the US Department of Agriculture financed $274 million in purchases of US cotton, rice and flour by the US-backed Khmer Republic, then an ally in the US war to stem the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
With interest, the total had risen to $339 million by 2007.
The National Assembly in 1993 declared that the Khmer Republic, established via a coup d’etat in 1970, was illegal.
US commodities credit can allow borrowing governments to devote more money to military spending. Iraq used US agricultural credit in the 1980s to finance its war with Iran.
“Countries around the world who contract debt have an obligation to pay that debt,” Mr Marciel said, adding that the US has long been willing to help reschedule the debt.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that the debt had paid for the slaughter of Cambodians.
“The debt was used for weaponry and the weaponry was used to destroy all things including life in the country,” he said. In deporting the Uighurs to China in December, Cambodia had been merely enforcing domestic laws, he added.
“It is not the obligation of Cambodia to interfere in Chinese affairs,” he said.