THE United States senate appropriations committee has approved a bill that could suspend military aid to Cambodia in response to the government’s deportation of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers last year.
The foreign assistance appropriations bill for 2011, approved on Thursday, states that funding for multinational peacekeeping exercises should be withheld from Cambodia unless the government provides “credible information on the whereabouts and welfare of the 20 Uighur nationals”.
Cambodia deported the Uighurs on December 19, a month after they arrived in Cambodia and applied for political asylum through the UN refugee office in Phnom Penh.
Two days later, China signed US$1.2 billion worth of economic investments and aid agreements with Cambodia, fuelling speculation that the Uighurs had been returned under Chinese pressure.
In March, the US suspended a shipment of about 200 military lorries in retaliation for the deportation. Two months later, Beijing filled the breach with a similar shipment.
Although it has not been passed by the US congress, the bill shows that the deportation rankled with lawmakers.
In May, two congressmen submitted a separate bill that sought to block the relief of more than US$300 million in Cambodian debt and the extension of duty-free status to Cambodian garment imports.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, one of the bill’s sponsors, stated at the time that its passage was less important than “drawing attention to the misdeeds of the Cambodian dictatorship”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong downplayed the appropriations bill, saying the US and Cambodia had “very good” relations.
“The United States of America have the right to implement their laws and foreign policy,” he said yesterday. He also said the government did not know the Uighurs’ whereabouts.
“It is not our affair anymore. When they were in Cambodia, they were under our sovereignty, but now they are back to their home,” he said.