Hok Lundy To Go to VN for Hill Tribe Talks

National Police Director-Gen­eral Hok Lundy will lead a delegation to Vietnam next week to fina­lize details on how the two countries will handle the hundreds of Montagnard asylum seekers who have fled their country since February and are camp­ed under UN supervision in Cambodia’s northeast provinces.

“I will go to Hanoi next week, but not for a negotiation, because the two countries already have a bilateral agreement. We’re going to solve the problem of how to coordinate with the deportation of those people,” Hok Lundy said.

More than 700 Montagnard hill tribe members who say they are fleeing persecution in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, are living in two camps in Mond­olkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces while the UN High Commis­sioner for Refugees investigates their cases, UNHCR Officer in Charge John Farvolden said.

Since the Montagnards started arriving in Cambodia and asking for asylum, Vietnam has insisted they were illegal immigrants and demanded they return home. Hok Lundy said he generally agreed with Vietnam’s point of view, but said a compromise must be reached between all parties involved.

“By the government’s principals, those people must be sent back. But we need a discussion between the UNHCR and Viet­nam,” he said.

The ethnic tribesmen first began appearing in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri in March after a violent crackdown on unrest in the Central Highlands of Viet­nam. The UNHCR has since give many of the refugees protected “persons of concern status” while UNHCR investigates their claims for asylum.

Initially, the US stepped in, urging the UN to expedite their investigation, and gave asylum to almost four dozen of the hill tribe members. But now even some rights workers believe the Mont­agnards should return to Viet­nam. “If they stay here much longer, it could create an unpredictable crisis in the future,” one rights worker said Wednesday.

Some observers say the asylum-seekers have already chang­ed the nature of the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam. The refusal of the Cambodian government to hand the asylum-seekers back to Vietnam has marked a new independence in Cambodia’s foreign policy.

Hok Lundy acknowledged as much when he described Cam­bodia’s role in the ongoing negotiations over the fate of the asylum seekers. “Cambodia will cooperate with the status of a home owner, and a partner,” he said.


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