Gov’t To Allow UNHCR to Aid Montagnards

The government will allow the UN refugee agency to open of­fices in Ratanakkiri and Mondol­kiri province to aid Montagnard asylum-seekers, Nuth Sa An, secretary-general of the Ministry of Interior, said Sunday.

The decision stems from a meet­ing between diplomats from the US, Canada, Britain and Ger­m­any and co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng last month, Nuth Sa An said.

Montagnard asylum seekers “are coming a long way to Phnom Penh, so when the UN [High Commissioner for Refu­gees] opens offices in those prov­inces it can accept them there and send them to the camp in Phnom Penh,” Nuth Sa An said.

The UNHCR will not be allowed to open refugee camps along the border areas, he added.

The government ordered the UNHCR to remove all staff from its office in Ratanakkiri a few months ago, accusing the UN of luring Montagnards from Viet­nam into Cambodia. The UNHCR, which has repeatedly denied the charges, has been confined to its Phnom Penh office and denied access to the border regions. The UNHCR has not had a presence in Mondolkiri since 550 Montagnards were transferred from a refugee camp there in April 2002. The camp was torched and looted about an hour after the refugees left.

Nikola Mihajlovic, head of the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh, did not answer repeated calls for com­ment Sunday. Another UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government has not contacted the UNHCR about its decision to let it reopen offices in Mondolkiri and Rata­nak­kiri.

Mihajlovic is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong today, the official added.

On Friday, Hor Namhong ac­knowledged that some Mon­tagnards in Cambodia are ref­ugees, clashing with Hanoi’s statements that the ethnic minorities have no reason to leave Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

“The government’s policy to allow the UNHCR to open offices in those two provinces does not affect our good relationship with Vietnam because Cambodia is a signatory of the [1954 Refugee Convention] and is a sovereign nation,” Nuth Sa An said.


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