Ailing Montagnards Seek Hospital Treatment

Ratanakkiri province – Two of the most seriously ill Montagnard asylum seekers in hiding in O’Yadaw district were escorted out of the jungle on Friday by human rights workers and admitted to Banlung provincial hospital where they were being treated for as yet undetermined illnesses.

The two men who fled from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province in June are the first asylum seekers, of almost 200 interviewed in the past five weeks, to emerge from hiding and receive medical treatment by Cambodian doctors.

Their emergence coincided with the arrival in Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital of staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who arrived on Friday and the granting of permission by Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun for Montagnard asylum seekers to receive safe passage to meet the UN.

The two ailing men, both 24-years-old and members of the Jarai minority, were escorted in a car to Banlung by Pen Bonnar, provincial director of local rights group Adhoc who said they will stay under his organisation’s protection until a meeting is held today with UNHCR and provincial officials.

“I will help them until we get a guarantee of protection from the UN,” Pen Bonnar said at Banlung Hospital where the asylum seekers were tested for malaria before undergoing blood tests for other diseases.

“Everybody has a right to live,” Pen Bonnar said, adding that he took action after receiving information that the two men were seriously ill with no access to medical treatment.

“When the people gave us information and asked for help I wrote an intervention letter to the government,” he said.

“The provincial government gave us permission to save those refugees…and escort them to the UN,” he said.

Visibly shaking with fever the two men gathered what belonging they possessed, shook hands with the other asylum seekers they were leaving behind and began to trek slowly to the waiting vehicle. One of the men, who had been unable to eat in over a week, had lost a degree of hearing. The second man, deathly emaciated from not eating in two weeks, vomited on the march to the car.

On admission to Banlung hospital for treatment Dr Nhiem Sophea said: “Doctors have an obligation to treat patients regardless of their personal background.”

Police officers visited the hospital later but departed after inspecting the condition of the two men.

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said earlier on Friday that he was satisfied that the asylum seekers would soon leave the jungle as their remaining longer in hiding would likely develop into a serious security issue for Cambodia.

“If they are hungry and sick they will turn to banditry and cause problems in this area. The second problem is if they stay in the jungle they would start using traditional [hilltribe] jungle traps to protect themselves and develop a network to fight against the neighboring country,” Kham Khoeun said.

Kham Khoeun said there were no meeting yet scheduled with UNHCR and he did not know if they would process the Montagnards’ asylum claims in Banlung or in Phnom Penh. Thamrongsak Meechubot, acting representative for UNHCR in Cambodia, was scheduled to arrive in Banlung on Saturday.

But Kham Khoeun warned that more Montagnards were likely to seep across the border from Vietnam’s restive Central Highlands and it was imperative for the UN and the international community to assist in solving the Montagnard issue at source and not allowing Cambodia inherit a problem that it had not created but has now to assume responsibility for.

“The UNHCR and human rights groups should go to Vietnam and solve the problem there,” he said.

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