WASHINGTON The United States said on Thursday it had halted shipments of some surplus military vehicles to Cambodia to retaliate for the Southeast Asian nation's decision to deport a group of Uighurs back to China over U.S. protests.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States informed Cambodia last month that it was suspending the shipment of 200 military trucks and trailers as a consequence of Cambodia's December decision on the Uighurs.
"We said there would be consequences and this is a step in that direction," Crowley said.
Cambodia in December defied international pressure and expelled 20 Uighur asylum seekers, a move that underlined its growing economic and diplomatic links with China.
Two days later it signed 14 deals worth an estimated $850 million with China. Beijing denied any link.
Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim group native to China's far western region of Xinjiang, where ethnic rioting in July killed 197 people. Many there chafe under Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion.
The deported Uighurs were smuggled into Cambodia late last year and applied for asylum at the U.N. refugee office.
But Cambodia brushed off concerns they would be mistreated if returned and deported them for immigration offenses, a move sharply criticized by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United States.
Crowley said Cambodian authorities had ignored appeals from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her deputy on the Uighurs, and that Washington had decided that suspending the truck and trailer shipments was an appropriate response.
"This is something that is important to Cambodia, and obviously as we said there would be consequences for their failure to live up to their international obligations," he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand)