Re­mains hostage in US spat

The Phnom Penh Post - - NA­TIONAL -

con­cerns to ex­plain Cam­bo­dia’s tem­po­rary sus­pen­sion of re­ceiv­ing de­por­tees.

“[The de­por­ta­tions] are cruel and in­hu­mane [and] caused some peo­ple to com­mit sui­cide,” he said.

The premier said the For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry would send a diplo­matic note out­lin­ing the sus­pen­sion of as­sis­tance in search­ing for US re­mains on Cam­bo­dian soil.

Hun Sen’s stance was in con­trast to For­eign Min­is­ter Prak Sokhonn’s re­marks yes­ter­day. He struck a some­what con­cil­ia­tory tone in claim­ing the govern­ment would con­tinue to ac­cept de­por­tees.

Sokhonn, along with For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cials ranked above di­rec­tor gen­eral and their fam­i­lies, is di­rectly af­fected by the travel ban on US visas for busi­ness, tourism and med­i­cal treat­ment. “This is un­fair, be­cause firstly we have never fully sus­pended it, be­cause Cam­bo­dia did not ab­so­lutely stop [ac­cept­ing de­por­tees], and it is not that Cam­bo­dia is op­posed to re­ceiv­ing [them], but we are in the process of ne­go­ti­at­ing with each other,” he said at a press con­fer­ence.

He said the Min­istry of In­te­rior was pre­pared to send a del­e­ga­tion to in­ter­view po­ten­tial de­por­tees in 26 pend­ing cases. “We have not de­nied [ac­cept­ing them], but they needed to be in­ter­viewed in or­der to know whether they are Cam­bo­dian or not, be­cause in the past there were Viet­namese and Lao­tians and Thais who claimed to be Cam­bo­dian but they were not.”

A For­eign Min­istry state­ment yes­ter­day also stressed “Cam­bo­dia did not halt its co­op­er­a­tion nor deny/un­rea­son­ably de­lay ac­cept­ing its na­tion­als sub­ject to be de­ported by the US”, and was “still pre­pared” to take them in.

The premier’s sud­den an­nounce­ment yes­ter­day will likely im­pact groups like the Koh Tang/Mayaguez Veter­ans Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which is ac­tively seek­ing the repa­tri­a­tion of US sol­diers who per­ished dur­ing the “Mayaguez in­ci­dent” at the hands of the Kh­mer Rouge in 1975.

Se­bas­tian Stran­gio, au­thor of Hun Sen’s Cam­bo­dia, said the move seemed “in­ex­pli­ca­ble”, as pris­on­ers of war miss­ing in ac­tion was a “highly emo­tive” is­sue in the US, and one Cam­bo­dia had co­op­er­ated on since 1991.

“For Hun Sen to can­cel this out of the blue can only be seen as an ex­pres­sion of anger and spite about the lim­ited visa restric­tions im­posed by the US State Depart­ment this week,” he said in an email.

“This is a poke in the eye to Wash­ing­ton. I’ve al­ways main­tained that Chi­nese sup­port gives Hun Sen fairly am­ple scope for push­ing back against the US, but this de­ci­sion could come back to bite him.”

Bill Herod, founder of the Re­turnee In­te­gra­tion Sup­port Cen­tre (RISC), said while the ex­act num­ber of de­por­tees who had taken their own lives was un­known, it was likely six or higher.

But “the more sig­nif­i­cant num­ber would be those who have been vic­tims of ‘death by de­por­ta­tion’”, which Herod de­scribed as a hope­less­ness lead­ing to drug over­doses and other reckless and fa­tal be­hav­iour.

“While the two gov­ern­ments may not be able to agree on ac­tual changes to the MoU of 2002, they may be able to agree on a much more ag­gres­sive ap­proach to the case-by-case re­views per­mit­ting Cam­bo­dia to de­cline to ac­cept in­di­vid­u­als who, for ex­am­ple, have never lived in Cam­bo­dia or have spouses and chil­dren in the U.S.,” he said via email.

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