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Cambodia To Seek US Debt Forgiveness

Cambodia will ask the US to cancel hundreds of million dollar war-era debt the country owes, Cambodia’s foreign minister said Sunday, a day before meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hor Namhong, in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, told VOA Khmer in an interview that it was fair if the debt was cancelled.

"I will ask [Clinton] to ask the US government to relieve Cambodia's debt, because it was from the Lon Nol regime,” Hor Namhong said at a hotel near UN headquarters.

"The loan was for buying war weaponry to fight in Cambodia. I will tell her that Cambodia has never demanded reparations for the [US] bombing during the Vietnam War, which killed many Cambodians and caused damages...Therefore, the US should understand the debt Cambodia owes,” he added.

Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s longtime foreign minister, is scheduled to meet Clinton Monday in New York, Cambodian officials said. They are expected to discuss an array of issues.

Cambodian officials have said Cambodia owes more than $300 million to the US dating back to the 1970s.

This is the first time that Cambodia will discuss the matter with US senior officials after several public requests and discussions by Cambodia's top leader, legislative body and international organizations with some US officials.

"First, we will ask the US to totally cancel the debt, but if this is not possible, we will then ask to turn the majority of it into development assistance, and Cambodia will pay a certain small portion of it," said Hor Namhong.

Some countries which the US relieves debt through the form of development assistance use the money for investing in education - an example some international organizations have suggested for Cambodia.

Cambodia's biggest opposition party also agrees with the government.

"We support the government in asking some countries to cancel debts that Cambodia owes from the past, but from today onward all foreign loan should be done with care,” said Yim Sovann, member of parliament and spokesperson for the Sam Rainsy Party. “It should be used effectively not extravagantly and get lost due to corruption."

One third of Cambodia external debts are from Russia and the US.