May 28, 2004

Montagnards: Four more Montagnards fled to Cambodia


Four more ethnic minority Montagnards from Vietnam have fled to Cambodia, bringing to 91 the number of Montagnards in the custody of U.N. refugee officials there
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BANGKOK—Four more ethnic minority Montagnards from Vietnam have fled to Cambodia, bringing to 91 the number of Montagnards in the custody of U.N. refugee officials there, RFA’s Khmer service reports.

The director of Cambodia’s Central Office for Security, Gen. Sok Phal, said in an interview that Phnom Penh wouldn’t seek to deport the Montagnards forcibly. This latest group arrived in Phnom Penh on May 26. No names or identifying details were available.

"The government will not... deport the [four] refugees back even though we know they were brought into the hands of the UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] office in Phnom Penh," Sok Phal said.


Montagnard asylum-seekers living on the Vietnam-Cambodia border in late 2003. This photo has been edited to obscure the men's identities.
UNHCR officials declined to comment. The top UNHCR official in Asia, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, this month accused Cambodia of failing in its international treaty obligations in its treatment of the Vietnamese Montagnards.

"I am extremely concerned about the fate of people who attempt to come into this country with the illusion that they will reach safety," Fakhouri told a news conference. "The asylum space in Cambodia for a seeker coming from a neighboring country is extremely restricted, to the point of being rather untenable."

Cambodia tightened border security in a bid to keep out refugees following the dispersal of thousands of demonstrating hill tribe people, or Montagnards, in Vietnam following bloody protests last month during Easter Week.

That circumvents a U.N. human rights convention under which Cambodia agreed to allow refugees into its territory.

More than 1,000 Christian Montagnards escaped into Cambodia in 2001 after similar demonstrations occurred in Vietnam's Central Highlands. Most of them were resettled in the United States.

About 91 Montagnards are now seeking UNHCR protection in Cambodia, according to Cambodian authorities. The government recently alleged the UNHCR was secretly assisting Montagnards from the border to Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government views Montagnard asylum-seekers as illegal migrants.

In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the State Department cited "numerous credible reports that groups of Montagnards continued to flee to Cambodia to escape ethnic and religious repression in the [Vietnamese] Central Highlands."


Source: Radio Free Asia