The Chinese Embassy has sent a letter to senior government officials asking them to return the more than 200 illegal Chinese immigrants being held for breaking Cambodia’s immigration laws.
The letter, dated Sept 16, is a reaffirmation of the Chinese Embassy’s opposition to handing down prison sentences to the illegal Chinese immigrants, who face three to six months in jail for entering the country without proper travel documents.
“In line with safeguarding the friendly relations and mutual cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Cambodia, China decides to send an airplane to Cambodia to take the 218 Chinese citizens back in the near future in order to solve the issue of repatriation quickly,” said an English-language version of the letter.
“It is appreciated if the Royal Government could agree with the above demand of the Chinese side and provide necessary assistance and facilities in repatriation,” it said.
Additionally, a trial for the more than 200 Chinese immigrants was not held Monday morning as scheduled. Court officials said documents were not ready. It remains unclear if the trial, which already has been postponed once, has been abandoned or merely delayed again.
So Vandy, deputy chief of the municipal immigration police, said Monday evening that he had seen the Chinese Embassy letter—which was sent to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, First Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Chea Sophara and the National Police headquarters. So Vandy said there likely will not be a trial for the Chinese.
Another official who saw the letter said a formal response to it likely would not be made until Prime Minister Hun Sen is consulted. He returns Thursday.
The government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Chinese authorities do not want their nationals to appear before a judge but did not know if that led to the cancelation of the scheduled trial.
If held, the trial would mark the first time the nation’s judicial system was used to prosecute illegal Chinese immigrants, Interior Ministry and Immigration police officials said. In previous arrests of illegal Chinese immigrants, they have simply been deported.
Government lawyer Heng Vong Bunchhat said Monday that the Chinese are creating a logistical problem for Cambodian officials, who have been responsible for housing and feeding them since their arrest in late August.
“What need is there now for a trial? The important thing is very soon they will leave Cambodia,” Heng Vong Bunchhat said.
Perhaps more importantly, the illegal immigrants are creating a political problem for senior government officials—possibly including a Cambodian diplomat and National Police officials—who’ve been implicated by Chea Sophara in a profitable widespread human-smuggling ring.
The trial was initially pushed by Chea Sophara, who promised a sustained campaign against illegal immigrants and the Cambodian officials who allegedly are pushing them through the country to third and fourth nations.
Court officials said the case was not cancelled for political reasons, noting the courts are separate from the government and were not under pressure from the Chinese Embassy to halt the trial.
According to Oum Sarith, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the trial was postponed merely because the paperwork has not yet been received by the courts from the immigration police. “The court has enough documents to try them, but the court wishes to coordinate with the government plan for deportation….As long as [immigration authorities] complete their task, I will rule on the trial,” Oum Sarith said.
Prok Saroeun, chief of immigration police, said his department was not stalling on issuing the deportation documents. He said immigration police were ready Monday morning to send the illegal immigrants to court, but at the last minute he was informed the case was canceled.
“This morning I was ready to send those immigrants to court but later I was told there would be not trial today,” he said. “Only the top leaders know why and when the documents will be ready. My job is to send the immigrants to court.”
According to another top government official, five buses were prepared Sunday to take the 200-plus illegal Chinese from Immigration Police Headquarters to court for the scheduled court appearance. However, police officials were informed Sunday evening the case was off. “[The courts] cannot do their job….The case is not delayed, it is completely canceled,” the official said.
Director of National Police Hok Lundy would not comment on the case Monday, deferring to Deputy Prime Minister and Interior co-Minster Sar Kheng. Sar Kheng said he did not know why the case had been delayed, speculating it was a problem with the municipal court. (Additional reporting Kimsan Chantara, Chea Sovirak and Seth Meixner)