Cambodians are responding with outrage to the U.S. government's demand that the country repay a nearly 50-year-old loan to Cambodia's brutal Lon Nol government, which came to power through a U.S.-backed coup and spent much of its foreign funds purchasing arms to kill its own citizens, according to Cambodia's current prime minister Hun Sen.
While the U.S. was backing the Lon Nol government, it was also strafing the Cambodian countryside with bombs—a carpet-bombing campaign that would eventually see over 500,000 tons of explosives dropped on the small Asian country, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and leaving a legacy of unexploded ordnances.
"[The U.S.] dropped bombs on our heads and then they ask us to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF [International Monetary Fund] not to lend us money," Hun Sen said at an Asia-Pacific regional conference earlier this month.
"At the same time the U.S. was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country," former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin told Australia's ABC.
"And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north," Kevin added. "So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this."
Hun Sen has argued that the U.S. has no right to demand repayment of its "blood-stained" funds.
"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," wrote former Reuters correspondent James Pringle for The Cambodia Daily.
In fact, during his tenure as prime minister Hun Sen has asked the U.S. to drop the "dirty debt" several times, but American leaders have refused.
"[The] U.S. would not drop it. It would have been so easy to forgive the repayment, it would have been easy to refinance it for education like they did in Vietnam," the reporter Elizabeth Becker, who covered the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, told Al Jazeera.
"The U.S. intervention in Cambodia was easily the most controversial that we had in that era," Becker said. "[The U.S.] dragged Cambodia into the Vietnam War for hopes that by expanding it they could win, the complications now are that even 50 years later, the Khmer Rouge legacy is horrible."
"The U.S. owes Cambodia much more in war debts that can be repaid in cash," Becker argued to The Cambodia Daily.