The State Department Tuesday defended a decision granting a U.S. visa to Cambodia's national police chief, Hok Lundy, despite charges linking him to political violence and other crimes. A major human rights group is urging that the visa be rescinded. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here are suggesting there was a vigorous debate among U.S. agencies about whether to grant the visa to the controversial Cambodian police official.
But the State Department says there were compelling reasons for allowing Lundy to attend a Washington counter-terrorism meeting this week hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI last year awarded Lundy a medal for his cooperation with the U.S.-led war on international terrorism. However, he has in the past been accused of involvement in political violence and other illegal activity in Cambodia, including trafficking in persons.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials understood the seriousness of the allegations against Lundy but that an inter-agency review of his case turned up no legal grounds for excluding him, and that the process came down to a policy decision:
"I know there are a lot of allegations, and I'm not trying to discount those allegations,” he said. “The key here is that there is no, in the review of the visa application, there was no legal bar to his being granted a visa, and that in that process there are certain standards that have to be met in terms of information. That is really the best I can offer you."
McCormack acknowledged that Lundy was once refused a U.S. visa over allegations he was involved in a human trafficking case in 2004.
The spokesman declined to elaborate on what he said were the compelling reasons for the decision to grant the visa this time.
A senior State Department official later said there had been a pretty healthy internal debate within the U.S. government on the issue, and in the end it was decided it was in the U.S. national interest to allow the visit.
The monitoring group Human Rights Watch issued a statement Tuesday urging that the visa be rescinded. It said Lundy was being allowed to attend a U.S. anti-terrorism event even though he had been implicated in an act of political violence 10 years ago classified by the United States itself as a terrorist act.
The group said Lundy was part of a conspiracy to carry out a 1997 grenade attack aimed at Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy that killed 16 people and wounded more than 100 others.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Sophie Richardson told VOA her organization cannot fathom how a Cambodian figure linked to terrorism can be allowed to visit the United States:
"The visa should be revoked for a couple of different reasons, not least Hok Lundy's track record of being implicated in serious violations of human rights,” he noted. “And we are particularly concerned that he's been invited to the U.S. to participate in bilateral discussions with the FBI about counter terrorism cooperation when one of the most serious abuses in which Hok Lundy was implicated was designated by the FBI itself as a terrorist act."
A written statement by Human Rights Watch said Lundy commanded troops supporting the then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen in a July 1997 coup that were involved in extra-judicial killings, and has also been implicated in drug trafficking.
The New York-based group said instead of playing host to the Cambodian police chief, the FBI should be investigating him. It said there is no one in Cambodia aside from his boss, Hun Sen, who has shown more contempt for the law than Hok Lundy.