September 9, 2015 / 1:30 PM / 2 years ago

Cambodia backs off threat to scrap Australian refugee deal

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia agreed on Wednesday to take in more refugees from an Australian detention center in the South Pacific, despite having indicated earlier it would pull out of the controversial resettlement agreement having taken in only four people.

Prime Minister Hun Sen held talks with Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, and both agreed to stick to the plan to take small numbers of refugees from Nauru on a voluntary basis, a Cambodian official said.

“We want to have more refugees come, a group of four or five people at a time,” the prime minister’s aide, Sry Thamrong, told reporters.

“Under this agreement with Australia, we will push it forward,” Sry Thamrong said, adding Cambodia would send a team to Nauru to interview more detainees.

Australia has vowed to stop asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia and Sri Lanka and landing on its shores, instead intercepting boats and shifting the people to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

As part of the deal with Cambodia announced a year ago, Cambodia would get A$40 million $28 million) in additional aid from Australia regardless, of how many asylum seekers it takes.

Last week, Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Sopheak said there were no plans to accept more, adding: “The less we receive, the better.”

Australian officials, however, denied the deal had collapsed.

Rights groups have chided Australia for trying to resettle refugees in developing countries like Cambodia, which is frequently in the spotlight for human rights abuses.

One of those resettled in Cambodia, a minority Rohingya Muslim, has asked to return to Myanmar, Cambodia said on Sunday. The three others are Iranians.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel

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