52 Montagnards Transported to Phnom Penh

Fifty-two Montagnard asylum-seekers were transported from Ratanakkiri province to Phnom Penh over the past two days, said an official with the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees.

The asylum-seekers, who for two weeks have trickled out of the jungles of Ratanakkiri in small groups, were put under the UN refugee agency’s protection be­fore being transported to Phnom Penh Sunday and Monday, said Chung Ravuth, a UNHCR protection officer. “We have good communications with authorities in Ratanak­kiri province,” Chung Ravuth said. “They are not strict with us as they have been before. They allow us to do our work without dis­turbance.”

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said Monday that de­spite his best efforts, Mon­tagnards continue to flee Vietnam and sneak across the border.

“We have tried to prevent them from entering Cambodia, but they still flow into the country illegally,” he said.

He was skeptical that the Montagnards were fleeing political persecution and said it was more likely that the steady stream of asylum-seekers reflected an opportunistic streak among members of the group. “We think they are not treated badly and face no political threat in Vietnam, but the reason is they want to settle in a third country to make money,” he said. “If any country has a policy to accept them for asylum, there will be no end.”

Groups of Montagnards began to seek asylum in Cambodia after the Vietnamese government re­sponded harshly to April demonstrations for land rights and religious freedoms in the country’s Central Highlands. The latest group brought the total number of Montagnards who have emerged from hiding in the jungles since July to around 400.

News of this group of 52 Mon­tagnards came soon after reports that several people in Mondolkiri province were accused of assisting asylum seekers and were threatened by local authorities.

Four villagers and a policeman have asked human rights workers for protection.

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