20 Montagnards Placed Under UN Protection

The UN refugee agency placed 20 Montagnard asylum-seekers under their protection in Ratanak­kiri province’s O’Yadaw district on Mon­day after they crossed into Cam­bodia from neighboring Viet­nam’s Central Highlands, a human rights monitor said Tuesday.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said the 20, consisting of three families that in­­cluded eight children, crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border on June 15.

They had taken refuge in the jungle around the Jarai ethnic mi­nority Lum village in Pak Nhai com­mune while waiting for the ar­rival of the UN High Commis­sioner for Refu­gees, Pen Bonnar said.

Around 30 police officers were sent to search for the Montag­nards over the weekend, “But they did not find them,” he added.

Earlier this month, six Montag­nard asylum-seekers were brought out of the jungle in Pok Nhai commune by UNHCR staff.

Ratanakkiri provincial police De­puty Chief Chea Bunthoeun de­clined to comment on Tuesday.

A UNHCR representative said of­ficials from the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and the refugee agency went to Lum village on Mon­day to collect the asylum-seekers.

“They are from [Vietnam’s] Gia Lai province,” the UNHCR representative said. “They’re in very good shape.”

Vietnam’s Gia Lai province was the site of massive ethnic minority protests for land rights and religious freedom in both 2001 and 2004.

The Vietnamese government de­ployed troops to the highlands to quell the protests and have kept the area largely off limits to in­depen­dent ob­servers and journalists.

The 20 will be flown from Rata­nakkiri’s provincial capital Banlung to Phnom Penh today along with the six asylum-seekers taken into pro­tection earlier this month, the UNHCR official said.

According to the UNHCR, there are currently 665 Montagnards housed in four sites in Phnom Penh, though eight will be leaving for Canada today.

(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)


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