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China-Cambodia Ties Under Scrutiny in Arrest of French Citizen

A general view of the home of French architect Patrick Henri Devillers is pictured in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21, 2012.
A general view of the home of French architect Patrick Henri Devillers is pictured in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21, 2012.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodian authorities are saying little about the case of a French national believed to be connected to disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai. Patrick Devillers was arrested June 13 in Phnom Penh at China's request.

Since confirming the arrest of Patrick Devillers this week, Cambodia has offered few details about why the French national was arrested, and on what grounds he continues to be detained.

Authorities say his arrest was spurred by a request from China. It's believed China wants to question Devillers about his relationship with Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai. Gu Kailai is under investigation for the murder in China last year of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Yet foreign ministry officials told reporters Devillers would not be sent to either China or France without some evidence he had committed a crime.

On Friday, government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to discuss the issue, except to say that Cambodia is being careful to follow procedure in what is a sensitive case.

"It's an issue of procedure,"he said. That's why Cambodia needs more time to find out what's going on. And for the time being, he's still in Cambodia."

Cambodia now finds itself entangled in one of China's biggest political scandals. Heywood had close ties to Bo Xilai, who was ousted as Communist Party chief of the city of Chongqing. But those ties had soured and Heywood's death led to the end of Bo's career.

China has considerable influence in Cambodia, having provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans with easy terms.

Cambodia still relies on foreign aid to supplement its national budget, and in recent years, the government has increasingly turned to China to offset its dependence on Western nations.

"It's saying a lot. It's saying that the no-strings-attached aid to Cambodia from China, after all, does have strings," said Ou Virak, the head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "There are strings after all. The Chinese government does want favors and does ask Cambodia [to meet] certain conditions as well, and Cambodia tends to comply with what is asked of them by China."

In 2009, Cambodia was widely criticized after authorities deported 20 Uighur asylum-seekers to China. Their fates remain a mystery.