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US caucus meets with PM

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US Congressmen Eni Faleomavaega (left) and Mike Honda field questions Thursday during their three-day visit to Cambodia.

A VISITING delegation of three American congressmen met Thursday with Prime Minister Hun Sen, during which they offered encouragement for the Kingdom’s business community while also raising concerns over the government’s controversial deportation of a group of Chinese Uighur asylum-seekers last month.

Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Mike Honda of California and Eni Faleomavaega, a non-voting Congressional delegate from American Samoa, arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday after visiting Vietnam.

The discussion with Hun Sen, Faleomavaega said, focused largely on financial concerns. Cambodian garment manufacturers are currently seeking duty-free access to the United States, the largest market for Cambodian exports. Government officials, meanwhile, want the US to cancel US$300 million in debt accrued during the Lon Nol era.

Though the congressmen made no specific commitments, the three men – members of the US Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus – said they would advocate on Cambodia’s behalf when they returned to Washington.

“In studying the history of the debt, it seems like it’s something that we as a caucus can deal with in Congress ourselves,” Honda said during a press conference following the meeting.

The discussion with Hun Sen also touched briefly, Faleomavaega said, on Cambodia’s controversial deportation of the 20 Uighur Chinese back to China last month, where activists say the group may face arrest or persecution in connection with riots between Uighurs and ethnic Chinese last July.

“The feeling of the international community is that they will likely be executed if they were to return to China, and this has been our very serious concern,” Faleomavaega said.

The US State Department released a statement last month saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the incident, which came just days before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and senior Cambodian officials signed 14 economic aid agreements totalling US$1.2 billion, adding that it would “affect Cambodia’s relationship with the US and its international standing”.

Cao questioned whether China had “imperialistic intents”, while Faleomavaega noted the country’s “tremendous influence” in the region, acknowledging questions about the timing of the aid package.

“I don’t know if this was a quid pro quo ... but a lot of people would take that as there seems to be a connection,” he said, adding that the Cambodian government deserved the chance to publicly explain its decision to the international community.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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