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Fourth Cambodian Dancer Seeks Asylum

October 8, 1990

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) _ A member of a visiting Cambodian dance troupe has requested political asylum, the fourth member of the company to do so in its month-long U.S. tour.

The 22-year-old woman dancer, whose name was not released, stayed behind after a performance while the remainder of the troupe continued to its next stop, New York City, on Sunday.

She was waiting at an undisclosed location to speak with officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who said the meeting would be held on Tuesday at the earliest.

Three other dancers from the troupe, the Cambodian Classical Dance Company, sought asylum while on a stop in St. Paul, Minn., last week.

Angry organizers of the dance tour charged that Cambodians in the United States, including members of Lowell’s large Cambodian-American community, coerced the dancers into leaving to score political points.

″What has clearly happened is some of the political groups that are against the government in Phnom Penh have done the one thing they can do: pressure the dancers to defect,″ said John McAuliff, director of the sponsoring U.S.-Indo-China Reconciliation Project in Philadelphia.

Cambodian-American activists ″were all over us,″ McAuliff said. ″It’s been clear that they have been trying very hard to undermine the tour.″

Cambodians in Lowell and St. Paul acknowledged they encouraged the defections to protest the government in Phnom Penh.

″They call it a cultural performance, but this (dance tour) is to convince the American people to support the Cambodian government,″ said Bunthan Eang, editor of the Cambodian Press in Lowell and a leader of the city’s 25,000- member Cambodian community. He said the woman who defected in Lowell ″made her own decision without anybody interfering.″

Many Cambodians in the United States believe that Vietnam controls their country. Vietnamese troops withdrew in 1989 after 10 years of occupation.

The dance company now touring the U.S. is part of the government-controlled University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.

It performed before a sellout crowd of 3,000 in the Lowell Auditorium on Saturday, said Ruth Meehan, cultural events coordinator of the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, which cosponsored the event.

INS officials wouldn’t discuss the case, citing policy keeping cases private.

Three dancers stayed behind in Minnesota after an appearance at the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul. They were a brother and sister, Hing Rachhana and Hing Thonnora, and a male dancer, Nou Van Thy.