Gov’t May Allow Some Montagnards to Stay

Montagnard asylum-seekers under the protection of the UN refugee agency may be permitted to stay in Cambodia if they refuse re­settlement in a third country, in­for­mation minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­ha­rith said Tuesday.

“If they belong to a peaceful group, OK, no problem,” he said.

But any individuals found to be­long to an armed group, or “to a ter­rorist group,” will have to be sent back to Vietnam, he said.

On Friday, the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees released a statement reporting that 110 Mon­tagnards, who had fled to Cambodia from Vietnam, refused offers to resettle in the US.

The statement also said that a large number of the 553 Montag­nards currently under UNHCR pro­tection in Cambodia want to return to Vietnam and had en­tered Cambodia under the im­pres­sion that the agency could help them reclaim confiscated land.

The situation has UNHCR and government officials grappling to figure out what to do with those re­fusing to resettle in a third country.

So far, none of the Mon­tagnards have expressed any desire to stay in Cambodia, a UNHCR of­ficial said on condition of anon­ymity, adding it was too early to say what would happen to them.

Hem Heng, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the ministry’s secretary of state, Long Visalo, was in contact with the UNHCR on the issue. He did not know whether the government will consider re­patriating the Montagnards.

Reached by phone, Long Vi­sa­lo hung up repetitively on re­port­ers without com­ment.

Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Tuesday that he hoped the UNHCR would not “ignore” the Montagnards’ re­quests to return to Vietnam. But asked who should be responsible for their repatriation, he said: “This question is for the UNHCR, not the government.”

Hor Ang, deputy provincial po­lice chief in Ratanakkiri province, where many of the Montagnards were hiding in the jungles, re­futed Khieu Kanharith’s comments Tues­day, saying they should not be allowed to stay in Cambodia.

“By principle of law, it is not ac­ceptable [to allow them to stay] because there is no considerable crisis in Vietnam,” he said.

Meanwhile, 10 more Montagnards are reportedly hiding in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district, awaiting assistance from the UNHCR, said Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of the rights group Adhoc.



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