Gov’t Strikes Deal to Accept Cambodians Convicted in US

The Cambodian government has agreed to accept into the country convicted felons who have Cambodian citizenship but were living in the US at the time they committed their crimes, the Minister of Interior announced Thursday.

The felons were all convicted in US courts, but under US law resident aliens who never fulfilled the requirements for citizenship can be deported to their native country if convicted of a felony.

“We will accept them back, but in fact we have to learn, ‘Who are they?’ ‘Are they a real Khmer or not?’,” said Sar Kheng, co-Min­ister of Interior.

He said the government agreed to take the felons back af­ter US officials threatened to limit the number of visas handed to Cambodian citizens. “If we don’t take [them], the US put pressure to close visas and not allow Khmer citizens to enter the USA,” he said.

US and Cambodian officials have talked about repatriating the felons for the last two years, said Bruce Levine, first secretary at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia is one of a handful of nations that does not have a repatriation agreement with the US, and authorities here balked when asked to accept Cambodian citizens who were being thrown out of the US. The negotiations led to an agreement in March that set up a procedure for reviewing each case, Levine said.

Some of the Cambodian citizens had been held in US jails while their cases were being discussed; as long as no country wanted them, they were being held indefinitely.

The US Department of Justice made a push to settle such cases after the US Supreme Court ruled in July that indefinite detentions were unconstitutional, Levine said. He said he did not know how many people will eventually be repatriated to Cambodia. He said a small number of passports have been issued so far.

Sar Kheng on Thursday also announced plans for a survey of all foreigners living in Cambodia.

The survey will begin May 15 and finish by the end of the month, fo­cusing on Phnom Penh, Kandal, Prey Veng and Kompong Chh­nang provinces.


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