Phnom Penh on Wednesday voiced regret about a U.S. decision to stop issuing visas to senior Cambodian foreign ministry officials and their families, urging Washington to reconsider the policy and offering to send a delegation to discuss the cases of 26 nationals whom the United States wants to repatriate.
The U.S. action -- which also covered 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.
Cambodia under a 2002 agreement with the United States has accepted the repatriation of about 500 such returnees, with another 1,000 slated for a similar fate.
In April, however, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United States to end its practice of forcibly repatriating convicts to the Southeast Asian nation, a policy he said "splits up families of our Cambodian people.”
"Cambodia regrets that the government of the United States decided to place Cambodia on its list of 'non-cooperative' countries," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
It called the U.S. decision "not in conformity with the spirit of good cooperation on the repatriation program between the two countries" and said that Cambodian calls to renegotiate the 2002 agreement did not mean it had terminated cooperation.
Cambodia is willing to dispatch a delegation the United States to interview 26 "remaining individuals" raised in recent discussions in Phnom Penh, it said, without elaborating.
"The ministry anticipates that the government of the United States would reconsider its above-said decision in order to promote friendly relations and good cooperation between the two countries," it said.
Cambodian political commentator Meas Ny told RFA's Khmer Service the U.S. policy reflects increasing tensions between Washington and Phnom Penh and will "truly affect senior ranking government officials as they are banned from traveling to visit their families there."
"Most of them have their families, spouses, children or residences in the U.S. Therefore, when the visa is banned they cannot travel to or enter the U.S., and in particular these officials will find it hard to attend any meetings or to serve diplomatic purposes in the U.S.” he said.
The U.S. and other Western countries have condemned Hun Sen's spiraling crackdown on the political opposition and civil society, including the Sept. 3 arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha, ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections.
By Moniroth Morm, Sovannarith Keo and Chandara Yang for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.