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Cablegate: Ambassador Discusses Uighurs and Drug

VZCZCXRO8688
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0926/01 3510724
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 170724Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1460
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 2586
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA IMMEDIATE 1705
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000926

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, INL, DRL, PRM
GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2019
TAGS: PREF PREL PGOV PHUM SNAR CB
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES UIGHURS AND DRUG
REHABILITATION WITH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAR KHENG

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 925
B. PHNOM PENH 913

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CAROL A. RODLEY FOR REASONS 1.4 (B, D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Ambassador Rodley met December 17 with
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior (DPM) Sar
Kheng to discuss the Uighur asylum seekers in Phnom Penh.
The DPM expressed disappointment at an initial lack of
cooperation by the local United Nations High Commission for
Refugees (UNHCR) Office with the Royal Government of Cambodia
(RGC), but said the RGC and UNHCR were working together now
to assess the asylum claims of the 20 Uighurs who remain
under UNHCR protection. He repeated Cambodia's commitment to
abide by its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
The Ambassador and DPM also discussed the recent dispute
between the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) and
the U.S.-supported harm reduction NGO Korsang. The DPM said,
for his part, he supported renewing Korsang's license to
participate in Cambodia's Needle and Syringe Exchange Program
if no other objections were raised. Korsang and UNAIDS
officials fear the license renewal is in jeopardy due to the
dispute. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------
Protecting Uighur Asylum-Seekers
--------------------------------

2. (C) During a December 17 conversation about the Uighur
asylum-seekers in Phnom Penh, Ambassador Rodley praised the
RGC's public commitment to upholding its obligations under
the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967
Protocol. Ambassador called the substantial media coverage
of the situation "extremely unfortunate" because it makes the
protection of those asylum-seekers even more difficult.
Ambassador emphasized that despite the low profile maintained
on this issue, the U.S. Government (USG) is following these
asylum cases very closely and considers them very important.
Ambassador also related the satisfaction expressed by UNHCR's
Bangkok representative for RGC measures taken thus far and
thanked the DPM for his efforts to move the Uighur group to a
more secure location (Ref A).

3. (C) The DPM expressed disappointment with UNHCR's
handling of the process, saying the RGC had not received
close cooperation on the Uighur asylum claims. He stated his
belief that the response would have been improved if UNHCR
had sought to work together with RGC officials from the
outset. The DPM said the RGC is preparing for the refugee
status determination interviews, although a start date has
not yet been set. He pledged the RGC "would do our best" to
make accurate determinations of who were refugees and who
were not. He also confirmed that the RGC expected joint
management of the refugee status determination process with
UNHCR, in keeping with the operating model that's been in
place since late 2008.

4. (C) Responding to the Ambassador's question on the
current state of security for the Uighur group, the DPM said
his understanding is that there have not been any problems
with security thus far. He repeated the December 16
discovery that two of the Uighur adults were no longer
present (Ref A), as the group was moving to UNHCR's Site 3.
(NOTE: The two Uighurs who departed are still considered to
be asylum-seekers under UNHCR protection in Cambodia. END
NOTE.) Ambassador expressed the hope that the move would
address any remaining safety concerns. The DPM concluded by
noting the RGC was "on the road" to finding a solution to the
Uighur problem.

---------------------
Treating Drug Addicts
---------------------

5. (SBU) The Ambassador and DPM also discussed the
development of a dispute between the NACD and harm-reduction
NGO Korsang, which receives USG support, and provides 24-hour
needle and syringe exchange services for approximately 1,200
injection drug users as part of a harm-reduction approach to
drug treatment and HIV/AIDS prevention in Cambodia. The NACD
requested that Korsang volunteer its drug addiction clients
for participation in a study of the efficacy of a Vietnamese
substance called "Bong Sen" in treating heroin addiction.
Korsang reportedly told NACD authorities that its donors'
terms required assurances from NACD and the Ministry of
Health about "Bong Sen", the provision of safety data for
"Bong Sen," and provision of study protocols, ethics board

PHNOM PENH 00000926 002 OF 002


approvals, and the documentation of procedures to ensure
informed and voluntary consent of study participants. In the
absence of such evidence, in order to conform with donor
expectations, Korsang refused participation in the study.
Korsang and UNAIDS subsequently reported to USAID and Embassy
officers that NACD officials threatened not to renew
Korsang's license to participate in Cambodia's needle and
syringe exchange program.

6. (C) DPM Sar Kheng said his understanding was that a small
shipment of "Bong Sen" was originally given to Cambodia by a
Vietnamese deputy prime minister, and that the substance was
approved by Vietnam's Ministry of Health. Following that, a
group of experts from Vietnam arrived in Cambodia to help
administer a study on the substance's efficacy. He said
following NACD's request that Korsang participate, Korsang
asked for and received letters from Cambodia's Ministry of
Health as well as NACD officials, but that Korsang still
refused to participate. The DPM did not mention any request
by Korsang for the safety data or other information. He said
Korsang should not worry about repercussions from the
dispute, and that the incident was in the past.

6. (C) Ambassador noted the apparent breakdown in
communication between Korsang and NACD on what assurances
were required by Korsang and its donors in order to have
confidence in the "Bong Sen" study, that both parties likely
began with good intentions, but the communication
difficulties led to problems. Responding to the Ambassador's
question about the renewal of Korsang license to participate
in the needle and syringe exchange program, the DPM stated
his "support in continuing the license, if no other obstacles
to the renewal are discovered."

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (C) DPM Sar Kheng echoed the RGC's public commitment to
protecting the Uighur asylum-seekers in Cambodia, which has
been quite strong thus far. However, the DPM's comments
seemed to pull back slightly with the references to being "on
the road" to a solution. This may be a reference to the
external pressure that has increased in recent days. It may
also reflect an RGC belief that the group of 20
asylum-seekers is a mixed bag, with some persons having
legitimate political asylum claims and some who may not. The
DPM's complaints of lack of cooperation by UNHCR also raise
concerns about UNHCR's local capacity for handling the group.
The December 4 public reports of the Uighurs in Cambodia
which appeared to originate with World Uighur Congress
representatives in the U.S., as well as other activist
groups' willingness to use the media to massage the issue,
could present significant difficulties as the cases move
forward, particularly if some are denied.

8. (C) Korsang officials said they have held off officially
requesting the license renewal, but plan to submit it this
week. The DPM offered qualified support, but the
communication problems brought to light by the study dispute
may well be one of those "other obstacles" that could still
impede renewal.
RODLEY

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