Cambodia’s top military leader expressed disappointment Thursday with a US decision to suspend a shipment of military aid as retribution for the expulsion of 20 Uighurs from the country in December.
The US announced last week it would halt the shipment of 200 trucks to the military because Cambodia had violated its international obligations by deporting the Uighurs, who had sought political asylum from China.
“When [the aid was] about to come, there was a suspension, or freezing, that’s the issue,” Defense Minister Tea Banh told VOA Khmer Monday. “Some issues are unrelated, but then they affect smooth cooperation, and that’s what has caused us to be disappointed.”
Cambodia and the US only recently patched up their military relations, with direct US aid resuming in 2007. Such aid had been suspended for a decade following a 1997 coup d’etat that put Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in power.
Cambodia has meanwhile become a willing ally in the US effort to disrupt international terrorism and has allowed an FBI attache to operate at the US Embassy. The US will also aid Cambodia in a regional military exercise later this year.
Tea Banh said Monday such a rapid suspension in aid was not good for either country, and he said the Uighur issue was separate from defense issues.
Scot Marciel, who is in charge of Asia affairs for the US State Department, told a conference Friday the aid had been suspended as a “clear message” to countries that they must honor their international obligations and commitments.
The US had tried at high levels to stop the deportation of the Muslim Uighurs, Marciel said.
The group had fled unrest in their home province of Xinjiang but had been branded criminals by Chinese officials.
Twenty were deported just one day ahead of the visit of a senior Chinese official and the announcement of $1.2 billion of Chinese aid to Cambodia. And while two of the Uighurs escaped and remain at large, the fates of the 20 who were expelled remains unclear.
The Chinese government has tried nearly 200 Uighurs following anti-Chinese protests and rioting in Xinjiang in July 2009, and an untold number have been executed as a result.
The suspension of aid means Cambodia committed a wrongful act according to international law, said Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“This can be seen as a warning or as reflecting the displeasure of the US for such a deed,” he said.