The U.N.’s efforts to locate a group of Montagnards hiding in Ratanakkiri province continued to be hindered Monday as the provincial governor was yet again unavailable to meet its delegation, four days after it traveled to the northeastern province.
Despite the delegation’s expectation that it would meet provincial governor Thorng Savun on Monday, Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Mr. Savun was still not in Ratanakkiri, despite the governor informing a reporter on Sunday that he was en route to the province.
“Today, we were informed that the governor of Ratanakkiri would return to the province tomorrow,” Ms. Lee wrote in an email Monday.
“We await his arrival in order to bring the group to safety as soon as possible, particularly those who are reportedly ill,” she added.
On Friday last week, the U.N. was told by provincial authorities that they could not meet with the Montagnards until Mr. Savun returned to Ratanakkiri to give his blessing to their expedition.
Deputy provincial governor Ly Vin said that Mr. Savun returned to Ratanakkiri on Monday and that a meeting between him and the U.N. had been arranged for today.
“The governor just returned from Phnom Penh this afternoon and he is scheduled to meet the U.N. delegation tomorrow,” said Mr. Vin, adding that there was still no guarantee the delegation would be able to meet the asylum seekers.
The 13 Montagnards—who are all ethnic Jarai—have been camped out in the forest in Lumphat district for the past seven weeks after fleeing alleged persecution in Vietnam.
The latest trip comes after a U.N. delegation returned to Phnom Penh on December 5 following an unsuccessful three-day effort to meet the asylum seekers, with local officials demanding a permission letter from the Interior Ministry.
A local Jarai villager, who has been providing the group with food and water, said he believed the authorities were deliberately delaying negotiations with the U.N.
“I don’t think authorities want to meet the U.N., so that’s why they are delaying the meeting, because they want to arrest the refugees and send them back to Vietnam,” said the villager, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
He added that local police had been seen searching the forest in the vicinity of the Montagnards’ three camps Monday.