Outgoing US Ambassador to Cambodia William A Heidt said he will continue to press the US government on the possibility of lifting the visa sanctions imposed on certain Cambodian government officials, even after leaving his post, a Ministry of Interior deputy spokesman said on Wednesday.
Heidt made the assertion during discussions held at the ministry on Wednesday, where he also bid farewell to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, said ministry spokesman Phat Sophanit.
The US State Department started issuing visa restrictions last December on individuals it claims were “involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia”, spokesperson Heather Nauert said at the time.
The move came as a “direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions”, Nauert said, citing the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the banning of its officials from politics, the treason charges brought against its former president Kem Sokha, restrictions on civil society and the “suppression of independent media”.
US Congressman Ted Yoho, Republican representative for the state of Florida and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific introduced the “Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018” designed to bring in the sanctions in May.
Sophanit told reporters that Heidt said he had spoken to the US government about the possibility of lifting the visa sanctions.
“He has requested that the US government look into the possibility of lifting the visa sanctions imposed on Cambodian officials. So far he has not received a response from US Immigration, but he will continue to raise the issue with the US government when he returns there,” Sophanit said.
Sar Kheng thanked the ambassador for his efforts.
“[Sar Kheng] would like to thank the outgoing ambassador [for his attempts] in persuading the US government to lift the visa sanctions [imposed]."
“[Sar Kheng] thinks that it is for the benefit of Cambodia in improving bilateral relations and cooperation between both countries,” Sophanit said.
Sophanit said Heidt had thanked Cambodia for continuing to implement the agreement on the repatriation of Cambodians in accordance with the memorandum of understanding signed by both countries.
Heidt said the US and Cambodia are preparing to sign off on the creation of a working group to strengthen cooperation between the two countries. He said he also hoped that after this, the nations would move closer and better cooperate with each other.
“[Heidt] thanked Sar Kheng as Interior Minister for the strong cooperation between the countries, especially between the Ministry of Interior and the US on the work in combating cross-border human trafficking and the good work of the US embassy staff in Cambodia,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sar Kheng thanked the outgoing ambassador and said he admired the results achieved during his tenure to improve the relationship between Cambodia and the US.
Sar Kheng said he hoped that the relationship between the two countries would continue to deepen in the future.
US Embassy spokesman in Cambodia Arend Zwartjes declined to comment on the issue when requested by The Post.
“We don’t discuss the content of diplomatic discussions,” he said.