Farmer Says Montagnards Crossed River

An ethnic Jarai villager in Ratanakkiri province said Monday that two men claiming to be Montagnard asylum seekers approached him on his farm on Sunday looking for help after swimming across the Sesan River to escape Vietnamese police three days earlier.

According to the farmer in Andong Meas district, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from Cambodian authorities, the Montagnards said they were part of a group of 10 who had been trying to cross the border on Thursday when Vietnamese police spotted them, forcing them to scatter.

“The pair told me they swam across the Sesan River on Thursday night after police found out they were trying to flee [Vietnam] and they tried to catch them,” he said. “They are now hiding in a forest.”

The farmer added that the two Montagnards did not know the fate of the other eight.

Andong Meas district police chief Sovan Phin said he was not aware of the arrival of the two asylum seekers and had no plans to search for them.

“I don’t think those people can cross into Ratanakkiri province through Andong Meas district because this area is separated [from Vietnam] by the Sesan River,” he said.

Since October, more than 150 Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—have crossed into Cambodia, claiming to be fleeing persecution by Hanoi. More than 45 have been deported back to Vietnam, while 13 were given refugee status in March.

Another Jarai villager, who has helped dozens of Montagnards who have fled into Ratanakkiri since October, said he organized a van on Sunday to transport six other Montagnard asylum seekers who had been hiding in the province since March.

“We brought those people to Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon because we don’t have enough food for them,” he said, adding that they were handed over to the U.N.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last week that her office was helping to care for at least 109 other Montagnard asylum seekers.

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