Eighteen More Montagnards Cross Into Ratanakkiri

Eighteen Montagnard asylum seekers crossed into Ratanakkiri province from Vietnam on Wednesday morning, according to a rights group and a local villager, the fourth such group to arrive in the country this month.

Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the 18 were sheltering in a forested area in the province’s O’Yadaw district.

“Those people arrived at about 10 a.m. [Wednesday], but we just received the information at about 8:20 p.m.,” Mr. Thy said. “They are now staying in a safe area in the forest.”

An ethnic Jarai villager, who has aided 27 other Montagnard asylum seekers who have entered Cambodia over the past three months, also said the group arrived Wednesday.

“One of them came to Ratanakkiri before and he led these people here,” said the villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from authorities.

“The Vietnamese authorities treated him badly after he was recently sent back home by Cambodian authorities.”

On Saturday, police in Ratanakkiri deported seven Montagnards back to Vietnam after they were arrested while crossing the border. Two other Montagnards were deported earlier this month after accidentally wandering into Cambodian territory, police said.

The 18 Montagnards are the fourth group to enter Cambodia this month, following a group of three who arrived in Phnom Penh on January 21 and are currently being processed by the Interior Ministry’s refugee department.

Two other groups who crossed into Ratanakkiri earlier this month, totaling 14 people including two children and an infant, also hope to reach the capital but remain hidden in the forest.

Both groups—who are also staying in O’Yadaw district and being aided by members of a local Jarai community—say they hope the U.N. will help them reach Phnom Penh to apply for asylum.

Neither the U.N’s High Commissioner for Refugees nor Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Montagnards, an indigenous minority concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, have long been at odds with Hanoi over religious and land rights.

In 2001, Montagnards organized mass protests to demand greater freedoms and protections, but Vietnamese authorities violently suppressed the demonstrations.

Over the next three years, some 2,000 sought asylum in Cambodia. Some were resettled abroad, primarily in North Carolina, but others were sent back to Vietnam, where they were reportedly jailed and tortured.

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