Authorities in Ratanakkiri province are using dogs in their attempts to locate 32 Montagnards hiding in O’Yadaw district forest, an ethnic Jarai villager and a local rights group said Friday.
Villager Poy Yang, 50, said he witnessed about 10 security guards and five dogs scouring woodland as he was hunting on Thursday. The group, he explained, claimed to be searching the area for turtles.
“I met security guards who had come along with dogs to the forest and when I asked them what they were doing they said they were hunting turtles and other animals,” Mr. Yang said.
“I do not believe they were looking for turtles. They were looking for Montagnards because I have never seen uniformed security guards come with dogs to search for turtles,” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he believed authorities were resorting to such methods as a result of their failure to locate the majority of the Montagnards—an indigenous group concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—who have crossed the border since October.
“They are using this new strategy…because the dogs can smell the food and rice that the [Montagnards] cook,” Mr. Thy said.
Kam Phy, a police officer from O’Yadaw’s Yatung commune, denied the claims and said the guards may have been paid by villagers to locate and check animal traps.
“Sometimes villagers employ security guards and they go with their dogs to check their traps to see if any animals have been caught,” he said.
District governor Ma Vichet also refuted the accusation but said authorities were committed to preventing more Montagnards from arriving in Cambodia.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the government’s continued attempts to track down the asylum seekers.
“By hunting down ethnic Montagnard asylum seekers in the jungle using dogs, the Cambodia government is abandoning any pretense that they intend to respect the UN Refugee convention or abide by the principle of protection of refugees,” he said via email.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)