State Cancels 70% of Cambodia's Debt

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Moscow has agreed to cancel most of Cambodia's $1.5 billion debt owed to Russia since the 1980s, a Cambodian official said Tuesday.

State Duma Deputy Speaker Valery A. Yazev told the Cambodian government during a visit last month that up to 70 percent of the debt was being canceled by Moscow, said Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Cambodian parliament's finance commission.

Cheam Yeap was replying to questions by lawmakers in parliament during a debate on Cambodia's $1.8 billion national budget for 2009, which was approved Tuesday by the parliament's lower house.

During the 1980s, Cambodia was a close Russian ally and relied heavily on Moscow for weapons, food and infrastructure equipment.

Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries and is heavily reliant on foreign aid.

The country also owes the U.S. government over $300 million, Cheam Yeap said, adding that most of it was borrowed in the 1970s. He said Cambodia has asked the U.S. government many times to reduce the debt or cancel it, but there has been no response from Washington.

Deputy Finance Minister Ouk Rabun, also speaking during the budget debate, said Cambodia owed more than $2.3 billion to various countries. This amount does not include the amounts owed to the United States and the forgiven Russian debts. In addition, the International Monetary Fund also canceled last year an $82 million debt owed by Cambodia.