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.