With local authorities on Thursday refusing to cooperate with U.N. representatives attempting to meet with 13 Montagnards hiding in Ratanakkiri province, ethnic Jarai villagers in the area said they declined an offer from the delegation to help move the asylum seekers, as the operation was too risky.
Police have been attempting to locate the Montagnards since they fled from Vietnam over the past five weeks, labeling them “illegal immigrants.” In interviews with reporters last week, members of the persecuted minority group said they would face severe persecution if they were sent back to Vietnam and asked for U.N. intervention.
Wan-Hea Lee, country head of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), confirmed that U.N. officials met with police in the northern province Thursday.
“The team met with local police authorities this afternoon. Beyond that, there are no further updates,” Ms. Lee said in an email, adding that U.N. agencies “continue to seek clear assurances of safety from the authorities.”
Chea Bunthoeun, deputy provincial police chief, said he met with four U.N. representatives for about 20 minutes Thursday.
“[T]hey asked if we would cooperate with them to rescue the 13 people from the forest, but I told them to go and ask permission from the governor,” he said.
Provincial governor Thorng Savun claimed he could not meet the U.N. officials because they had not obtained authorization for their mission from the Interior Ministry.
A Jarai villager who has been providing the Montagnards with rice and water since they crossed into Cambodia, said he declined an offer from the U.N. delegation to help move the asylum seekers from the area.
“I didn’t think the U.N. could help rescue the 13 people because…they cannot guarantee their safety, as authorities will not allow them to meet [the Montagnards],” said the villager, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities.
“I believe that the presence of the U.N. officials in Ratanakkiri would bring serious problems for the 13 people, because it would cause authorities to find them sooner.”