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U.S. Officials Debate Cambodia Debt

US officials met in Washington last week to consider the possibility of reducing $339 million of debt owed by Cambodia for more than 40 years.

Eni Faleomavaega, a Democratic congressman from American Somoa, held a hearing with representatives of the departments of State and Agriculture.

Faleomavaega, who is the chairman of US House of Representatives subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, said Thursday that Cambodia's poverty and war-torn past meant US leaders needed to work to help the country develop.

The US recently cancelled $500 million in debt from Jordan.

"I certainly hope that we will come to the better resolution on the problem of debt owed by Cambodia," Faleomavaega said.

Cambodia owes more than $2 billion to foreign countries, according to 2006 figures. The government has agreed to pay debts to France, Japan, Italy and Germany, but has made no such pledge to the US.

Scot Marciel, Assistant Secretary of State for the East Asian and Pacific, said during the hearing that Cambodia had not made a bilateral agreement with the US to pay debt incurred since the regime of Gen. Lon Nol.

"Partly Cambodia refused to accept responsibility for debt by the Lon Nol regime and partly [it] disagreed over amount of debt owed at that time," he said.

Cambodia's ambassador to the US, Ek Sereiwath, who witnessed the hearing, said he supported debt cancellation for the country.

It's great if the US cancels the debt like Jordan," he said. "The Cambodian government has already stated that we will pay, but we ask for new negotiations."

Cambodia was seeking an interest rate of 1 percent, instead of the 3 percent it currently must pay.

Officials said Thursday it would ultimately be up to the US Congress to decide on debt relief for Cambodia.