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Cambodia wants US deportation deal renegotiated


Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs W. Patrick Murphy (R) shakes hands with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn (L) upon his arrival at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh on April 25, 2017. Cambodia told Washington on April 25 it would no longer accept convicted criminals with Cambodian heritage being deported to the Southeast Asian nation, the latest blow to ties between the two countries. / AFP PHOTO / TANG CHHIN SOTHY

Cambodia on Tuesday said it will renegotiate a deal with Washington where convicted criminals with Cambodian heritage are deported to the Southeast Asian nation, retracting an earlier statement that the deportations had been suspended.

For the last 15 years, the two nations have had a repatriation agreement allowing them to forcibly deport criminals with ties to the other country.

More than 500 felons with Cambodian heritage have been deported from the US, many with few ties to their ethnic homeland or even the ability to speak Khmer.

Earlier in the day Chum Sounry, a spokesman for Cambodia’s foreign ministry, said news of the suspended agreement was delivered to W. Patrick Murphy, one of the State Department’s most senior Asia diplomats who is currently visiting.

The deal, Chum Sounry said, had been “criticised by both Cambodians here and Cambodian communities in the US” as a form of “double punishment”.

But in a later statement he clarified that the deal was still in place and that Phnom Penh wanted it “amended”.

Earlier in the day he said any new deal should contain provisions ensuring repatriations are only voluntary and that deportees should have the right to visit family in the US.

The US embassy in Phnom Penh told AFP it had been informed of Cambodia’s desire to renegotiate certain aspects of the agreement.

Relations between the United States and Cambodia have grown increasingly frosty in recent years.

Washington secretly bombed Cambodia during the Indochina wars but went on to be a major donor as the country emerged from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge genocide, pouring billions in aid into the country.

It also took in tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees over the decades.

But Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen has become noticeably more critical of Washington in recent years, a period in which he has grown much closer to China.

China has lavished poverty-stricken Cambodia with billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans over the past few decades.

Unlike aid from the US, Beijing’s support comes without pressure on strongman Hun Sen to clean up his government’s dismal human rights record.

Hun Sen’s speeches routinely lambast Washington and earlier this year Cambodia cancelled annual military drills with the US military.

Officials at the time denied the decision was an effort to appease rival superpower China, with whom Cambodia had recently held drills.

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