Hun Sen looks to amend US jail deal 

100607-N-6770T-001 SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (June 7, 2010) Royal Cambodian Marines embark aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) to attend opening ceremonies for the first of two Cambodian phases of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2010. CARAT is a series of bilateral exercises held annually in Southeast Asia to strengthen relationships and enhance force readiness. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Tross/Released)

Cambodia says it will renegotiate a deal with the US where convicted criminals of Cambodian heritage are sent back to Phnom Penh, retracting an earlier claim that deportations had been suspended.

For the last 15 years, the two nations had a repatriation deal allowing them to deport offenders with ties to the other country.

More than 500 convicts with Cambodian origins have been deported from the US, although several had limited connections to their ethnic homeland and many could not speak Khmer.

Chum Sounry, a spokesman for Cambodia’s foreign ministry, said the deal was being suspended before later saying Phnom Penh wanted it amended.

He initially said any new deal should contain provisions ensuring repatriations were only voluntary and that deportees should have the right to visit their families in the US.

Thousands of Cambodian refugees fled to the US during the wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

Bilateral relations between Washington and Phnom Penh have grown increasingly tense as Prime Minister Hun Sen has moved much closer to China.

A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Hun Sen fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with the Vietnamese military  during that country’s war against the savage regime in 1979. He was first appointed foreign minister and was named prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported government in 1985.

China has given Cambodia billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans over the past few decades.

Beijing’s support is delivered without pressure on the veteran leader, Hun Sen, to address his government’s poor human-rights record, in contrast to US aid, which comes with strings attached. In return Cambodia blocks moves for Asean to promise a united challenge to Beijing’s expansion in the South China Sea.

Hun Sen’s speeches have become increasingly critical of the US and Cambodia cancelled annual joint exercises with the US military.

Phnom Penh denied the decision was an effort to appease China, with whom Cambodia had recently held military exercises. In March the US embassy also said Cambodia had axed humanitarian aid from the US navy, which the embassy claimed had built US$5 million worth of community projects since 2007.

Picture credit: Wikimedia