As the UN refugee agency arrived in Ratanakkiri province to search for Montagnard asylum seekers, King Norodom Sihanouk said Thursday the ethnic minorities could not accept the food, money and medicine he offered to them nearly two weeks ago because they feared deportation if they left their jungle hiding places.
“The Montagnards fleeing Vietnam could not come out of their hiding places because, if they did so, they would have been made to disappear in one fashion or another after they received my humanitarian aid, or they would have been returned to the authorities of [Vietnam],” the King wrote in a statement posted on his Web site Thursday.
In the past six weeks, 196 hungry and sick asylum-seekers have been interviewed and photographed in Ratanakkiri’s thick jungles. Local hill tribe sources say about 250 asylum-seekers may be hiding in the province.
On July 2, the King and Queen Norodom Monineath offered the asylum-seekers food and medicine. But the aid could not be delivered because Royal Palace representatives could not find any Montagnards after driving around O’Ya-dow district.
In his statement, the King blamed the government’s record of deporting Montagnards as illegal immigrants on its close relationship with Hanoi. “Our leaders cannot permit themselves to displease ‘Hanoi,’” he wrote. “If we ignore this historic ‘background’ and these ‘very special relations,’ neither the UN High Commissioner for Refugees nor the international press nor anyone ‘would understand’ why the Cambodian authorities close Cambodia’s ‘door’ to these ‘asylum seekers,’ even fighting them, forcing them back without pity, delivering them to the authorities of [Vietnam].”
The Montagnards do not want to form a separate state from Vietnam, but rather want land rights and religious freedom, the King wrote. “The [Montagnards] are deprived of their ancestral lands, their forests, their houses, their cattle,” he said.
Vietnam Ambassador Nguyen Duy Hung declined to comment Thursday, saying he had not read the King’s statement.