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Chinese Aid Raises Warnings on Rights

China has pledged to provide military aid, including more than 250 trucks, exceeding an aid package scrapped by the US earlier this year after Cambodia expelled a group of Muslim Uighur asylum seekers.

Political analysts warn that such aid can embolden Cambodia to ignore its international obligations on rights issues.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong announced the $14 million aid package, which includes 257 trucks and 50,000 uniforms, on his return from the Shanghai World Expo, where he accompanied Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and, Xinhua reported, “extended gratitude to China for the unselfish assistance to Cambodia in its social and economic development.”

That assistance includes a $1.2 billion aid package from China that was pledged just a day after Cambodia returned 20 Uighurs to China. The group had sought asylum in Cambodia after fleeing unrest in their home province, Xinjiang, in July.

Chinese and Cambodian officials have denied the aid was linked to the expulsion.

Rights groups warn that aid from China comes without the conditions, such as human rights improvement, often imposed by the West.

Such aid “actually empowers and emboldens the Cambodian government to pay less respect to those international norms,” Phelim Kine, a researcher for Human Rights Watch and a former journalist in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer. “And unfortunately that’s what we saw with regard to the Cambodian government’s decision in December 2009 to forcibly and illegally repatriate 20 Uighurs asylum seekers from Cambodia back to China.”

Major donors to Cambodia need to exact “a much more robust and substantive response” to Cambodia’s refusal to comply with its international obligations, he said.

The US withdrew an aid package of 200 military trucks to Cambodia in March, in response to the Uighur expulsion. A US State Department official declined to comment on the Chinese military aid pledge.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Cambodia does not simply accept aid without condition, adding that Cambodia controls its own political agenda. However, he said, “Cambodia will not kneel down to ask for assistance that is attached to conditions.”

Chanly Kuch, a Cambodian political observer in the US, told VOA Khmer the military aid package was not necessary in a country that has already come through so much conflict.

“Cambodia does not need any war, either among Khmer and Khmer or among foreigners and neighbors,” he said. “These weapons are not needed, and we should promote freedom of humankind. I very much regret that our Cambodian government has still trended toward being an authoritarian communist country that suppresses the rights of human beings.”

Tung Yap, director of the US-based Cambodian-Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, said accepting such aid was a loss of face.

“In my view, Chinese aid seems like bribery to our Cambodian government,” he said.