High-Level Meeting Tackles Montagnard Issue

A rights worker said Thurs­day that 50 more Mon­tag­nards have arrived in Ratanakkiri province over the past 10 days, despite a high-level meeting last weekend at which national and provincial authorities discussed new methods to stop asylum-seekers fleeing to Cambodia from Vietnam.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the Montagnards are still hiding with sympathetic villagers in the forests of O’Yadaw and Lum­pat districts.

He said that the authorities have yet to impose any restrictions on in­coming asylum-seekers but that the new group was in need of help.

“They are facing a shortage of food,” he said.

According to a tape recording of last weekend’s meeting, Na­tional Police Commissioner Hok Lundy told Ratanakkiri officials that border checkpoints would be beefed up and advised them to work with local villagers who might aid fleeing Montagnards.

He also told officials that Prime Minister Hun Sen has assured Vietnam that refugees who refuse resettlement in a third country will be sent back to Vietnam.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen, after the marriage of his daughter, advised me that he met with special representatives of the central com­mittee of the Vietnamese Com­munist Party. He stressed that there are only two ways: One is to send to the third country and the second is to send to Viet­nam,” Hok Lundy told the Sa­tur­day meeting, according to tape recorded extracts.

“We cannot allow them stay in Cam­bodia because it is illegal,” Hok Lundy told the meeting, which included police, military and military police officials, as well as Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun.

According to Hok Lundy, more than 300 Montagnard refugees at UN facilities in Phnom Penh have agreed to foreign resettlement and the government will work to see their immediate departure. How­ever, more than 450 Mon­tag­nards who remain housed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will be sent back to Vietnam this week, Hok Lundy said.

Stating that local people had assisted Montagnards in reaching UNHCR protection in Rata­nak­­kiri, Hok Lundy said he would give priority to recruits from border areas even if they did not have the normal prerequisites.

“I will offer priority to Ratanak­kiri to recruit more police officers. Al­­­though they are farmers I will close my eyes to accept if they are able, veteran[s]…or demobilized soldiers. If they are more than 50 years then you write their CVs that they are only 40 years, es­pecially for the villagers who live along the border,” Hok Lun­dy said.

Urging provincial authorities to meet on a monthly basis with their Vietnamese counterparts across the border, Hok Lundy said the delegations should seek assistance from Vietnam, such as motorcycles and two-way radios.

“The Vietnamese are poor, but not the government,” Hok Lundy said, adding that the National Police will also provide assistance.

Imploring officials to counter “foreign psychology” with their own, he advised his audience to work with villagers on the border to prevent them from being “cheated by the NGO psychology, which…is America’s trick.”

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun told the meeting that Montagnards were fleeing to Cambodia to set up an armed movement, but the establishment of that movement had been thwarted by preventing the UNHCR from setting up refugee camps in the province.

Kham Khoeun also warned of the threat to the province posed by Christianity and its corrosive affect on hill tribe cultures and villages who no longer worship their ancestors or sacrifice animals to appease the spirits.

“It has lost the hill tribe identity…. Now the wives and husbands, mothers and fathers have arguments. When they are sick, they do not allow them to pray and to kill the buffalo. They claim that God will help them with everything,” Kham Khoeun said.

RCAF Deputy Commander in Chief Meas Sophea repeated Kham Khoeun concerns about the spread of Christianity and said the Montagnards were set on establishing an autonomous zone.

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Meas Sophea de­nied making any anti-Christian comments and stated that the remarks were in fact made by Kham Khoeun.

Neither Kham Khoeun nor Hok Lundy could be contacted for comment on Wednesday.




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