Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to criticise the US on Friday over its decision to suspend certain visas for Foreign Ministry officials due to the Kingdom’s unwillingness to take back Cambodian citizens that the US wants to deport, appearing to allude to the possibility of protests should the ban remain in place.
During a wide-ranging speech at Vattanac Industrial Park on Friday, the premier said the US’s actions went “too far”, and accused the US of splitting up families.
“Separating father and child, and wife and husband is not virtuous and very immoral,” Hun Sen said. “We don’t expect the US to have no virtue . . . when it’s always talking about morality and human rights.”
The US’s efforts to deport Cambodian nationals with felony convictions have been panned by critics, who point out that most of the deportees arrived in the US as refugee children fleeing the Khmer Rouge, having lived their entire lives as US permanent residents and do not speak Khmer or have family in Cambodia.
On Friday, Hun Sen said Cambodia may rejoin a programme to find and repatriate the remains of American military personnel who died in the Vietnam War if the US rescinds the visa ban.
“If you [the US] provide visas for me, I will provide the cooperation to look for [the soldiers’] bones for you,” he said on Friday, using a Khmer word for “bones” instead of a more polite term that means “bodies”. “I do not want to have the 1964 and 1965 incidents repeated,” Hun Sen added, referring to violent demonstrations against the US Embassy instigated by then-King Norodom Sihanouk.
Ambassador William Heidt, speaking to reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for Peace Corps volunteers on Friday, said the visa ban was part of US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants residing in the US illegally.
“Elections have consequences in the US, and that’s his policy,” said Heidt, who called the escalation in tensions between the US and Cambodia “unfortunate”.
“We need to sit down across the table and talk it out,” Heidt said.
US State Department officials have maintained that the visa ban is unrelated to rising political tensions in Cambodia following the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha.
David Josar, deputy spokesman of the US Embassy, said discussions are ongoing about the timing and logistics of Cambodian officials travelling to the US to interview about 28 Cambodian nationals facing imminent deportation.