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Cambodia to expel Taiwanese scam suspects to China

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Cambodia plans to send 21 Taiwanese arrested for suspected fraud to China instead of the self-ruled island this Friday, a Cambodian official said. Rights activists and Taiwan say the plan reflects the great influence Beijing exercises over Cambodia through aid and investment.

Gen. Ouk Haiseila, chief of the Interior Ministry's Immigration Investigation Bureau, said Wednesday the Taiwanese citizens, along with 14 Chinese also arrested this month, will be sent to China because Cambodia regards Taiwan as part of China.

Those arrested allegedly defrauded victims in China using phone calls made over the internet, making them harder to trace. Haiseila said the arrests, made in raids in Phnom Penh on June 16 and 18, were made after tip-offs from Chinese authorities.

He said that since November some 213 Chinese and Taiwanese have been arrested and deported for similar offenses.

China claims jurisdiction in such cases because it says the victims are residents of mainland China. They have said Taiwan doesn't punish such crimes harshly enough, encouraging others to try their luck at such scams that can potentially lead to massive payouts.

Kenya and Malaysia have also deported Taiwanese internet scam suspects to China despite protests by Taiwanese officials. 

Taiwanese officials have viewed Beijing's demands for the fraud suspects as a sign that China is interfering with Taiwanese affairs and exerting its legal authority over the island's citizens abroad.

The Taipei Times cited the island's foreign ministry as saying that Beijing pressured Phnom Penh into sending the suspects to China. The ministry was quoted as saying that Taiwanese officials based in Vietnam who had traveled to Cambodia were prevented from visiting the suspects.

China is a key ally and economic partner of impoverished Cambodia. China's influence in Cambodia is considerable despite Beijing's strong backing of the former Khmer Rouge government that caused the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.  It has provided millions of dollars in aid to Cambodia over the past decade, agreed to write off debts and granted it tariff-free status for hundreds of items.

"China's idea of rule of law is getting what it wants when it wants, even if that means running roughshod over human rights _ and in the case of Cambodia, it's found a willing partner which is all too happy to deport people on Beijing's word without any concern for due process rights," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. He cited Cambodia's expulsion to China of ethnic Uighur asylum seekers, and Phnom Penh's alignment with China in the dispute over its territorial claims in the South China Sea as other examples of doing Beijing's bidding.

He said the group should be allowed to contest the deportations at an impartial hearing.

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