Four Montagnards were sentenced on Thursday to lengthy prison terms for inciting demonstrations for land rights and religious freedom in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in early 2001, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported last week.
Y Kuo Bya, Y He Eban, Y Jon Enoul, and Y Bri Enoul were sentenced to between 10 and 13 years in prison by a people’s court in Dac Lac province, DPA reported Oct 17.
A Human Rights Watch representative said Tuesday that the latest convictions were part of an ongoing trend in which more than 100 Montagnards have been convicted in Vietnamese courts since the February 2001 rallies.
“At least 20 who sought asylum in Cambodia were sentenced to prison terms in Vietnam after they were deported,” the Human Rights Watch representative said. “This marks a breach of the UN convention by Cambodia.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the government has no policy of deporting Montagnards back to Vietnam.
His statements counter comments made by government officials in early September, all of whom said that Montagnards who flee to Cambodia are illegal immigrants and will be deported.
As recently as August 2003, it was reported that four Montagnards were arrested and deported from Mondolkiri province to Vietnam. On Tuesday, Khieu Sopheak said he had not heard of this report.
Khieu Sopheak said that workers with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees could travel freely anywhere in Cambodia to evaluate Montagnards in hiding, but said that the UN office and the government should work together in helping asylum seekers.
Nikola Mihajlovic, chief liaison for the UNHCR in Phnom Penh, did not respond to repeated phone calls or written questions delivered to his office.
“The UNHCR is allowed to go wherever they want, but they should not act unilaterally in accepting as refugees those who claim to be Montagnards,” Khieu Sopheak said. He urged the UN office to contact Cambodian authorities to aid in evaluating if these are true Montagnards or illegal Vietnamese immigrants smuggled into Cambodia pretending to be Montagnards.
The Human Rights Watch representative said that if a policy of granting asylum to Montagnards is now in place, and if such a policy is known by authorities “down to the border guards themselves,” it marked “a positive development.”