ratanakkiri province – Amid reports of Montagnard asylum-seekers arrested or killed in Ratanakkiri province, suspicion is mounting between asylum seekers and the villagers they have turned to for shelter, local residents said this week.
A busy coffee shop in O’Ya-Daw district town fell silent Wednesday morning as television news broadcast Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threat to send troops to Ratanakkiri province to quash the asylum-seekers he said did not exist, and if they did exist, they must be separatist fighters.
On Tuesday, photographs emerged of yet another 85 Montagnards hiding in deplorable conditions in the Ratanakkiri jungle. Nameless, frightened and hungry men, women and young children whom government officials have deemed nonexistent.
Asked Wednesday about the latest reports of refugees, Moung Poy, the second deputy governor of Ratanakkiri, laughed.
“It’s not true,” he said. “There are no refugees. There have been no arrests.”
Police patrols have increased along the Vietnamese border and in district towns, villagers said last week.
But some are starting to question whether the covert efforts to aid the asylum-seekers from Vietnam now face threats from within.
Four Montagnard asylum-seekers were reportedly arrested Sunday in O’Ya-Daw district’s Yatung commune, Ten village, a 25-year-old district resident said Tuesday. A villager led commune police to the four men, all recent arrivals from Vietnam, the man said. They were handed over to Vietnamese police and deported, he said.
“This has never happened before,” the young man said. “Before, when the refugees met villagers, the villagers protected the refugees.”
Another four asylum-seekers were reportedly arrested June 24 in Nhang commune, Andong Meas district, a 39-year-old political activist said Wednesday.
Three were deported, and the fourth escaped and fled into the jungle, cast out by police as a lure to see who comes to his aid, he said.
Though the man said he had been active in aiding asylum-seekers after the first influx in 2001, he is now too afraid to continue to help, he said.
“I cannot help them anymore, because it is more serious,” he said.
In Yatung commune’s O’Song valley, the bodies of seven Montagnards were discovered by villagers about one month ago, the 25-year-old man said. The bodies were too decomposed to determine the cause of death, he said.
Reports are circulating that Cambodian police receive money from Vietnamese authorities for every captured asylum-seeker handed over to them. Several villagers in different locations quoted the same figures—$200 per asylum-seeker, and $500 for those who were political activists in the Central Highlands. On Monday, deputy provincial police chief Hor Ang said reports of the rewards were false. He could not be reached by telephone for additional comment Wednesday.
With the stakes reportedly growing for their capture and Hun Sen’s threat of military deployment, refugees are becoming increasingly distrustful of villagers, a political activist in O’Ya-Daw said Tuesday.
“Even though the Jarai are the same people, [asylum-seekers] cannot trust Cambodian Jarai,” he said. “Cambodia is like a second Vietnam for them.”