Khmer Krom Group Backs Montagnards

Calling the Cambodian government’s deportation of Mon-

tagn­ard asylum seekers to Vietnam a “crime against humanity,” a Khmer Krom support group on Tuesday called for the establishment of refugee camps on the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Criticizing Cambodia’s forced return of Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam’s restive Central Highlands, the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, a local NGO, also asked the government to honor its obligations under the UN refugee convention and the wishes of King Norodom Sihanouk. “The current crisis, which [is] involved with crime against hu­manity, committed by the Cam­bodian authorities toward the Montagnard refugees is of great concern,” Thach Setha, opposition party senator and president of the Khmer Krom organization, said in a statement Tuesday.

“I would like to see the Cam­bodian government immediately establish refugee camps along the Vietnamese border and put them under the care of the [UN High Commissioner for Refu­gees], so that the lives of these unfortunate indigenous people can be saved,” he wrote.

In a message posted on his Web site Monday, King Sihanouk said it was undeniable that Mon­tagnards who fled to Cambodia were political refugees and not economic migrants.

King Sihanouk noted that Vietnam’s economy is in better shape than Cambodia’s, and the Montagnards would not flee if they were not deprived of their ancestral lands and resources.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said last week the government would continue to deport Montagnard asylum seekers, whom he called “illegal immigrants.”

Interior Ministry Director General Nuth San An said Tues­day that the handling of the Mon­tagnard issue depended “on the government decision.”

Nuth San An added that several foreign embassies are scheduled to meet today with Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to discuss the Montagnards.

Thach Setha also said it was “shameful” to call the asylum seekers economic migrants.

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