THE government’s deportation of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in December will likely force the United States to reconsider the nature of its relationship with Cambodia, a senior American official said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a daily press briefing in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley said the US was still unhappy about the sudden deportation.
“We’re deeply disturbed that the Cambodian government, in violation of its international obligations, forcibly removed 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December without the benefit of a credible process for determining their refugee status,” he said.
“We have expressed our disappointment, and we will factor this into future decisions that we make about our relationship with Cambodia.”
In response to questions about what specific measures had been taken, Crowley did not comment, but added: “When we say there’s going to be [effects], we mean what we say.”
On December 19 last year, Cambodian authorities forcibly deported 20 Uighurs who had arrived in Cambodia the previous month in a bid to seek political asylum. Rights activists say the group, including two other Uighurs who escaped prior to the deportation, fled ethnic violence in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province, last July.
Many observers linked the deportation to the arrival the next day of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who proceeded to sign an unprecedented US$1.2 billion worth of economic aid agreements with Cambodian officials.
When contacted on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong declined to comment on whether the government was concerned about any US reactions to the deportation.
He repeated the government’s earlier statement that in deporting the Uighurs, Cambodia was “only implementing its own immigration laws”.