Authorities in Ratanakkiri province on Tuesday said local residents were probably lying about having recently come across the partially buried body of a Montagnard asylum seeker from Vietnam.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said on Monday that villagers in O’Yadaw district’s Sesan commune reported seeing eight bodies floating down the Sesan River the week before. He said Tuesday the villagers later claimed to have found one of the bodies, that of a Montagnard, partially buried along the riverbank.
“I do not dare say the information about the body…is true because I did not see it with my own eyes,” he said.
“We will investigate to find the cause of death and we will also find the identity of the body, because the villagers told us the body is [that of] a refugee,” he added.
Since late October, more than 90 indigenous Montagnards from Vietnam have crossed into Ratanakkiri, claiming to be fleeing religious and political persecution at home.
An ethnic Jarai villager in O’Yadaw district, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities, said Tuesday he drove to the site where villagers reported seeing the buried body and found a fresh grave with a human leg protruding from the dirt.
“I saw that a grave had been dug on the riverbank a few days ago,” the villager said. “I saw one leg and then I took a photo of it.”
Local authorities, however, said they believed the villagers had lied about finding the body.
“I ordered my local police to search for the body of the Montagnard and we asked some villagers, but they told us they didn’t know anything,” said district governor Mar Vichet. “I think this is a rumor and I don’t understand why they created this false information.”
Sesan commune police chief Poy Yong said his officers had still not found the body. “I am investigating to find the source of the information and make a report to the district police chief, because we think villagers created news to poison the atmosphere,” he said.
The Jarai have helped hide most of the Montagnards from authorities in Ratanakkiri, who have summarily deported dozens back to Vietnam.