PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - Cambodia has agreed to take in people intercepted while trying to migrate to Australia illegally and a United Nations human rights agency said it would provide support for the plan if needed, officials said on Tuesday.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during a visit in February to take in migrants detained while trying to reach the Australian coast. "In principle, the government has agreed ... and we will do the work according to international standards," Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told reporters.
Australia's government came to power last year partly because of a tough stand on asylum seekers arriving from Indonesia with Prime Minister Tony Abbott promising to "stop the boats".
Australia already has offshore detention centres in the impoverished South Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru for asylum seekers it intercepts, often in rickety boats.
Ouch Borith said it was too early to discuss details of the plan and he denied media reports that Cambodia had agreed to Australia's request in exchange for aid.
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri, who is visiting Cambodia, said the United Nations would provide support. "What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitment to human rights standards," Ms Pansieri told reporters. "To the extent there is any need for cooperation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met."
Cambodia, which in the 1970s and 1980s saw a huge exodus of refugees fleeing war and starvation, is one of the world's poorest countries and has been criticised by human rights groups over its record on rights.
The number of asylum seekers reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries but it is a polarising political issue that also stokes tension with Indonesia over border policies that have been criticised by the United Nations and international human rights groups.