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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US bill targets Kingdom over Uighur case

US bill targets Kingdom over Uighur case

TWO American lawmakers have submitted legislation designed to punish Cambodia for last year’s deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers by barring the reduction or elimination of more than US$300 million in debt as well as the extension of duty-free status to Cambodian garments imported into the country.

The bill, dubbed the Cambodian Trade Act of 2010, was introduced before the US house of representatives on Thursday by William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, on behalf of himself and Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.

In an email to the Post, Rohrabacher said Tuesday that he could not comment on the likelihood that the bill will be passed, and added, “Whether it passes or not is less important than drawing attention to the misdeeds of the Cambodian dictatorship.”

Last December, Cambodia deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China, drawing criticism from observers who expressed concern that the Uighurs would face persecution there. Almost immediately after the deportation, China signed US$1.2 billion worth of economic aid agreements with Cambodia, fuelling speculation that the Uighurs had been returned to please Beijing.

A statement released on Friday by Delahunt contended that Cambodia’s treatment of the Uighurs had violated international protocol for processing refugees.

“Nations that expect economic benefits from the United States need to be accountable for their human rights records,” the statement read.

In an earlier display of disapproval, the US state department in April suspended a planned shipment of military lorries to Cambodia.

Less than a month later, China announced that it would donate 257 new military lorries to Cambodia, a move that Rohrabacher said on Tuesday was all the more reason for the US to take a tougher stance on the issue.

“People all over Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia, should be worried about Chinese domination,” he said via email. “The Chinese dictatorship is in a cozy relationship with less than free and totally dishonest governments throughout the region. Chinese willingness to back up [Prime Minister Hun Sen] just confirms the decision we made to not ignore this mistreatment of Uighur refugees.”

He added that the US would not be responsible for any potential negative impacts the bill, if passed, might have on Cambodian garment workers.
Cambodian garments are not presently afforded duty-free status in the US.

“The biggest harm to everyone who works in Cambodia is the corrupt and repressive Hun Sen government. No one should blame anyone from the outside for any economic repercussions as a result of Hun Sen’s policies,” he said.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights on Tuesday released a statement welcoming the introduction of the US bill, and calling on all donor countries to include human rights conditions in aid deals with Cambodia.

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