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Cambodia will take only 'voluntary' refugees: FM

Cambodia has said it would accept only voluntary asylum-seekers under a proposed deal with Australia after campaigners voiced alarm about refugees being foisted onto one of Asia's poorest nations.

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia said on Wednesday it would accept only voluntary asylum-seekers under a proposed deal with Australia after campaigners voiced alarm about refugees being foisted onto one of Asia's poorest nations.

"We accept only refugees who agree voluntarily to come to Cambodia. This is the most important principle," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters.

Cambodia announced last month that it had agreed "in principle" to take asylum-seekers bound for Australia despite controversy at the prospect of them being taken to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Under its hardline policy, Canberra currently denies would-be refugees resettlement by sending them to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

A deal has yet to be inked with Cambodia.

Hor Namhong said Phnom Penh was studying the proposal in detail, including the number of refugees.

Australia last week dismissed concerns that money given to Cambodia to resettle refugees could end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

It has declined to say how much money it is offering Cambodia.

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy has strongly criticised the idea, saying his country was not able to provide for its own people, let alone refugees headed for Australia.

Cambodia is seen as one of the world's most corrupt countries while its strongman leader Hun Sen is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.

Refugee advocates and the Australian Greens have criticised the government's asylum-seeker policy, which includes turning back boats.

In its budget last week, Canberra estimated its tough policies to prevent illegal boat arrivals would reap savings of Aus$2.5 billion (US$2.3 billion) over five years, with detention centres in Australia now being closed down.

It also announced that Aus$86.8 million would be given to Indonesia, where many of the boats originate, to help it manage its asylum-seeker population.

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