King: Montagnards Fear Cambodian Gov’t

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.


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