U.S. urges Cambodia to take back deportees

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The United States has urged Cambodia to take back people that Washington wants to deport, a U.S. official visiting Cambodia said on Friday, referring to Cambodians who have been convicted of crimes or overstayed their visas.

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Washington stopped issuing some types of visas to Cambodia’s foreign ministry employees and their families in September after Phnom Penh’s refusal to take back deported citizens.

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch said on Friday that Cambodia had been “very helpful” since December in working towards a repatriation process.

“We continue to insist that the Cambodian government and all governments around the world... that partner governments cooperate with the United States on this,” Risch told reporters.

Risch said that he was hopeful that the United States would lift the visa sanctions in the near future.

“That’s my goal. I would like to see the sanctions eventually be lifted and have Cambodia being cooperative and taking back their repatriation cases,” he said.

Cambodia stopped accepting Cambodian nationals sent from the United States last year saying it wanted to negotiate an agreement on human rights grounds first.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has criticized the United States over the deportations and has accused Washington of breaking up the families of those deported.

The United States has said that the restrictions were applied in accordance with U.S. Homeland Security rules.

Chum Sounry, a spokesman for Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, declined to comment on Friday.

Hun Sen, a close ally of China, has taken a series of measures against U.S. interests in the last year, from ending joint military exercises to expelling a naval aid unit and forcing a U.S.-funded pro-democracy group to leave.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie