Seven ethnic Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc on Sunday, accusing police of harassment as local authorities continued a door-to-door search over the weekend for five Montagnard asylum seekers, Adhoc and villagers said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said the seven villagers from O’Yadaw district’s Paknhai commune filed the complaint against commune police after officers began searching their homes on Thursday night.
“The seven representatives… asked for help from my organization because police intimidated them when searching from house to house for the Montagnard refugees,” Mr. Thy said. “I will send this complaint to Adhoc in Phnom Penh, which will pass [it] to the Interior Ministry and the National Assembly.”
The Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—crossed into Ratanakkiri on January 3 and said they were fleeing religious and political persecution.
Their arrival came about a week after the U.N. transferred another group of 13 Montagnard asylum seekers to Phnom Penh. The Interior Ministry’s immigration department is currently questioning them to determine whether they qualify for refugee status.
The Jarai are one of about 30 tribes that make up the Montagnards. While some Jarai live in Cambodia, the majority reside in Vietnam.
Romash Svat, 50, one of the seven Jarai who filed the complaint Sunday, said police threatened the minority group with arrest if the Montagnards were found in their homes. He also said the presence of 20 heavily armed police officers was unsettling.
“Villagers are scared because they have never seen so many police carrying guns and surrounding their homes before,” Mr. Svat said.
He added that the police search had become so disruptive that villagers now hope the Montagnards leave the district.
“Police are interrupting villagers’ lives, so we need the Montagnards to leave,” he said.
Another Jarai villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, has been hiding the five asylum seekers since their arrival and also hid the previous group of 13.
But amid the recent escalation in police searches, the villager said he feared for his own freedom.
“I am worried about hiding the five Montagnards, because police will arrest me if they find those people,” he said, adding that the group was still safely hidden in the forest.
Klam Thoeung, deputy chief of police in Paknhai commune, said he deployed two officers Sunday to provide security in the area while an additional 20 conducted searches.
“We are continuing to search because we have heard that some Vietnamese are crossing into the area illegally,” he said. “We don’t want Vietnamese authorities to accuse us of hiding their people.”
Mr. Thoeung said he was not aware of the complaint to Adhoc and did not plan on arresting any of the villagers.
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