18 Montagnards Placed Under UN Protection Under

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees placed 18 Montagnard asylum seekers under their protection in Ratanakkiri province’s An­dong Meas district Friday, while po­lice arrested three villagers who helped shelter the group, a rights worker said.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that UNHCR picked up the Montagnards, five of whom are children, on Friday. One asylum seeker out of an original group of 19 had gone missing since Thurs­day, he added.

A UNHCR official confirmed that the 18 were en route to Phnom Penh and would arrive Sunday evening.

Pen Bonnar also claimed police ar­rested three villagers on Friday for helping transfer the Montag­nards into UNHCR’s care, though it is unclear where they are being de­tained. He added that about 60 villagers protested outside the An­dong Meas district police station on Friday appealing for the villagers’ re­lease, but no release was made.

Andong Meas district police chief Sovann Phin said Sunday that he did not know of the arrests in his district or of the villagers’ pro­test and referred questions to pro­vincial police chief Ray Rai, who could not be reached for comment.

Hor Ang, deputy provincial po­lice chief, said he was also unaware of any arrests and referred questions back to Ray Rai.

Andong Meas district deputy governor Im Sovann said that he had heard about the arrests but did not have details. “I do not know why they were arrested,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak referred questions to provincial authorities, while Ministry of Fo­reign Affairs Secretary of State Long Visalo declined to speak to a reporter.

UNHCR spokeswoman Inge Sturkenboom could not be reached for comment Sunday regarding the asylum seekers and arrested villagers, but she said Thursday that representatives from the UN agen­cy planned to investigate reports that police had been pursuing asylum seekers in Andong Meas.

            (Additional reporting by Elizabeth Tomei)



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