US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton has praised the growing partnership between Cambodia and the United States despite the suspension of a shipment of military trucks as punishment for the Kingdom’s deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China last year.
“Together, we have expanded cooperation on law enforcement issues, food security, the environment, and international peacekeeping,” she said in a letter congratulating the Kingdom on its upcoming Khmer New Year celebrations.
“On this festive occasion, let me reaffirm our commitment to both the partnership between our governments and the friendship between our people.”
The praise comes despite a statement by US government officials that the deportation of the Uighurs would affect Cambodia’s relationship with Washington.
The US also faces calls from international rights advocates to take a tougher stance against Cambodia after its action against the Uighurs, which many observers saw as an attempt to appease key donor China.
The group Human Rights Watch has written to Clinton, calling for more severe US government sanctions such as a renewed ban on military-to-military funding and the return of refugee status-determination responsibilities to the UN refugee office.
“We share the State Department’s deep concern about the fate of this group ... [and] have received unconfirmed reports that some returnees have been tried and sentenced to death,” the letter stated.
However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong on Monday called the Uighurs’ deportation a “very small” issue, and said Clinton’s letter was proof that the bond between the US and Cambodia remains strong, despite the withholding of military aid.
“Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong welcomes her statement,” he said. “We hope that bilateral ties between the United States and Cambodian governments develop further after the 60th anniversary of our bilateral relations in July this year.”
Clinton also praised the work of the Cambodian government in finally bringing Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to trial.
“This past year, Cambodians marked an historic milestone when, for the first time in three decades, a Khmer Rouge official was held accountable for his crimes,” she wrote.