PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's national police chief has admitted for the first time that two Chinese Falun Gong members were arrested and deported earlier this month, but claimed the police did not know they were under U.N. protection.
Gen. Hok Lundy told reporters Wednesday that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh did not inform local authorities that asylum seekers Li Guojun and his wife Zhang Xinyi were under its protection.
Hok Lundy's comments are the first public acknowledgment by a Cambodian official that the couple were forcibly returned to China. Hok Lundy had said last week that he had "no knowledge" of the couple's arrest.
According to Falun Gong activists in New York the couple were arrested Aug. 2 and deported Aug. 9 to China. They had arrived in Cambodia in 1998 from China.
The incident attracted international attention because the two were deemed "persons of concern" by the United Nations, and Cambodia was obligated by international law to prevent them from being sent to China.
Falun Gong is a spiritual meditation group banned by China in 1999 as a threat to national security.
Hok Lundy said the two were deported for being "illegal immigrants" and at the "request of the Chinese Embassy."
"The UNHCR blames us but the question should be put to them, 'why didn't you inform us that these people were political asylum seekers?'" he said.
UNHCR officials did not immediately return phone calls Thursday for comment. But UNHCR officials have said in the past that they contacted Cambodian officials after the Aug. 2 arrests.
Hok Lundy said Cambodia does not allow "subversive movements plotting against foreign governments" to take refuge on its soil.
The small group of Chinese Falun Gong in Phnom Penh had enjoyed wide freedom in Cambodia until some six weeks ago, said Jiang Linzhong, one of at least two Falun Gong practitioners currently under U.N. protection here.