Cambodia, VN Devise Montagnard Solution

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Cambodia and Viet­nam reached a tentative agreement in Hanoi on Tuesday to re­settle or repatriate more than 700 Montagnards housed in UN facilities in Phnom Penh, a UNHCR country representative said Wed­nesday.

Under the agreement, the Mon­tagnards will be given the op­tion of returning to Vietnam or resettlement in a third country, but will not be allowed to remain in Cambodia long-term, Tham­rong­sak Meechubot said.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that three Mon­tag­nards were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison in Vietnam’s Cen­tral Highlands for organizing de­monstrations and inciting other Montagnards to flee to Cam­bodia.

But Meechubot said Vietnam has assured that the Montag­nards will not be persecuted upon their return and that the UNHCR will be allowed to visit the Central Highlands, an area closed to outsiders since 2001.

“The UNHCR is operating on the goodwill of everyone concerned…and whatever is available as a solution,” Meechubot said. “We’ll try to resettle everyone with­in six months.”

A source close to the Montag­nards said Wednesday that some  have threatened to kill themselves rather than return to Viet­nam. Asked about the reported threats, Mee­chubot said: “If they have such a fear…they can go for re­settle­ment.”

Montagnards who do not want to return to Vietnam or go  to a third country have one month to choose, the Viet­namese Em­bassy said in a statement released Wednes­day.

“If they are unable to make a choice after the deadline, the Ro­yal Government of Cambodia will coordinate with the Vietnamese government to bring them home in a safe and orderly process in line with the two nations’ laws,” the em­bas­sy said.

The embassy accused the Mon­tagnards of fleeing Vietnam illegally, “not for reasons of suppression,” but pledged that they will not face legal action or discrimination on their return.

A tripartite agreement fell apart in 2001 when UNHCR of­ficials were not permitted to travel freely in the Central High­lands.

Sok Phal, director of the In­ter­ior Ministry’s Central Security De­partment, said that Long Vi­sa­lo, Foreign Ministry secretary of state, signed the three-party agreement for Cambodia.

Police barred reporters from interviewing Montagnards at one UNHCR facility Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Kevin Doyle)


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