Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed surprise on Thursday at a U.S. decision to deny visas to senior members of the Cambodian government, rejecting accusations that it has ended cooperation with United States efforts to repatriate Cambodian nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. and calling linkage of the two issues “unreasonable.”
“Cambodia is still prepared to accept its nationals who will be deported by the US and will try by all means to ensure that those Cambodians will be successfully reintegrated into society and begin their new lives with the fullest decency and dignity,” the foreign ministry said in its Sept. 14 statement.
Striking a more defiant note, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said however that Cambodia will now retaliate against U.S. moves to refuse entry to Cambodian diplomats and other officials, adding that he has ordered suspension of a joint program to recover and send home the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
“So far, only 40 [of these] have been found, and there remain around 40 more,” Hun Sen said in a Sept. 14 interview with government-aligned Cambodian media outlet Fresh News. “Cooperation in this search will now be placed under suspension, pending the settlement of, and improvements in, various issues between Cambodia and the U.S.”
The U.S. action on visas for officials—which also covers Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—stems from a law under which convicted felons of foreign nationality are deported after they have served their prison sentences.
'Ready to travel'
Addressing a meeting on Thursday at Cambodia’s Royal School of Administration, foreign minister Prak Sokhon said that Cambodian officials are ready to travel to the U.S. to interview 26 Cambodian nationals now subject to deportation, adding that he had earlier asked that deportees be given job training in the U.S. before being sent home.
He had also requested that returns be made only on a voluntary basis, he said.
“But our demands could not be met.”
“Therefore, so that this program will not be interrupted, we have officials ready to travel to the U.S. to interview those 26 people who are now subject to deportation. We have never refused to take them back, but we just want to make sure that they are truly Khmers, and not Vietnamese or Laotians,” he said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Soeung Senkarona—a senior investigation official for the Cambodia-based ADHOC rights group—said that Cambodians living in the United States should be careful not to break U.S. laws., as they could then be forced home.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian government should welcome back any who are deported, he said.
“We want Cambodia and the U.S. to resume their cooperation, especially in regard to issues of human rights violations and the upholding of democracy,” he said.
Reported by Vuthy Tha and Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.