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Cambodia tentatively agrees to give asylum to boat people

PHNOM PENH--A senior Cambodian official has said his country has tentatively agreed to accept asylum-seekers who had been seeking to settle in Australia in a potential deal criticized by refugee advocates.

Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith told reporters on Tuesday there was an agreement in principle to take the asylum-seekers, who are being held in camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru under an agreement with Australia. However, he stressed that Cambodia had not yet approved the deal.

Australian officials had already announced that they were negotiating with Cambodia on the matter.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's office said in a statement on Wednesday his government was continuing discussions with Phnom Penh and “welcomes the receptive and positive response from Cambodia that has been provided to date.”

But Australian human rights lawyer David Manne described the potential deal as “profoundly disturbing.”

“Cambodia is not suitable to resettle refugees, it's one of the world's poorest nations and has one of the worst human rights records in our region,” Manne told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday.

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