Cambodia suspends repatriation agreement with US

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy (right) shakes hands with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon before a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 25, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia told Washington on Tuesday (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.

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.

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.

"It is necessary to amend the agreement because so far it has been criticised by both Cambodians in here and Cambodian communities in the US as well as those who had been sent back to Cambodia that they seem to receive a double punishment," he said.

He added that Cambodia would soon submit a proposal for a new deportation deal adding that repatriations should only be 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 also 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 presents come without pressure on strongman Hun Sen to clean up his government's dismal human rights record.

Hun Sen's speeches routinely lambast Washington while 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.

Last month the US embassy also said Cambodia had scrapped humanitarian aid from the US Navy, which had built US$5 million worth of community projects over the past decade.

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