Thirty-three Montagnard asylum-seekers emerged from the jungle into the protection of the UN refugee agency on Tuesday in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district, said a UN High Commissioner for Refugees official.
The latest group, which came from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province, brought the total number of Montagnards who have emerged from hiding in the thick northeast jungles since July to 315. Most fled Vietnam after authorities responded harshly to massive Montagnard protests in April for land rights and religious freedom.
“Healthwise, they are ok,” said Chung Ravuth, a UNHCR protection officer, after officials brought the asylum-seekers back from O’Yadaw’s Pok Por village to Banlung, the provincial capital.
“We don’t know too many details yet,” he added. “Right now, we just want them to rest.”
The UNHCR may return to O’Yadaw today to search for more asylum-seekers, Chung Ravuth said, but no plans were confirmed. The UNHCR has information that about 60 more Montagnards are hiding in the province.
Meanwhile, senior government officials were back from Vietnam on Tuesday, a day after they attended a meeting with their Vietnamese counterparts on “development cooperation” between border provinces.
Several high-profile Cambodian attendees at the meeting, including co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, National Police Chief Hok Lundy and Prum Sokha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, did not answer phone calls placed Tuesday.
According to the Vietnam News Agency, the two sides “shared a view to work closely with each other on border management in an effort to stop illegal border crossing as well as transnational crime and terrorism along the two countries’ border.”
“The two sides also reaffirmed their unswerving positions of not letting hostile forces use their territories as springboards to oppose the other country,” VNA reported.
In July, before the government had let the UNHCR access Ratanakkiri, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to use the military to eradicate alleged Montagnard militants. But in the past two months, the government has not found any armed Montagnard separatists hiding in the border areas.