Five Montagnards deported to Vietnam after fleeing to Cambodia last year have been sentenced to prison for “undermining national unity” and allegedly supporting a separatist movement, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
The Hanoi court sentenced the men Monday to between five and seven years imprisonment, according to the report. It said Cambodian authorities deported the men to Vietnam in November or December, citing a court official.
The men, ethnic minority Christians from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, were accused of supporting the FULRO independence movement, an organization that fought Vietnam’s Communist party and government for decades until it disbanded in 1992.
The Cambodian government has voiced fears in recent months of an uprising based here, as it has groped with an influx of Montagnards escaping a crackdown on protests for religious freedom and land rights in April.
In July, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to send troops into the country’s northeast to root out militants potentially plotting violence in Vietnam.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which in the past two months has airlifted more than 400 Montagnards from the northeast to Phnom Penh, has not reported any armed groups in hiding there.
Though the government concedes that the asylum-seekers don’t appear to be insurgents, Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng emerged from a meeting with Vietnamese officials last week pledging tighter border security to stamp out insurgent groups.
“We don’t want Cambodia as a battlefield,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday.
But “as long as UNHCR says [the asylum-seekers] are not FULRO, then OK, we respect the UNHCR decision,” he added.
Last week, Cambodia deported 12 members of Vietnam’s Cao Dai religious sect after the group tried to deliver a petition calling for religious freedom to a meeting of Asean lawmakers.
The Vietnamese Embassy referred questions about the Cao Dai members’ fate to the embassy spokesman, who was not in the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
Vietnam has one of the world’s worst records of oppressing religious freedom, according to a recent US State Department report.