Montagnard Arrested, Deported to Vietnam

Ratanakkiri provincial immigration police deported a Mont­agnard asylum-seeker Friday, hu­man rights workers confirmed Tues­day.

Provincial police arrested Kasal Krok, 55, an ethnic Jarai from Viet­nam’s Dak Lak province, in a taxi a few kilometers outside the provincial capital of Banlung, said Pen Bonnar, head of Adhoc’s Rat­an­akkiri office.

“He can speak Jarai and we have had witnesses confirm that he really is a Montagnard, not an il­legal Vietnamese immigrant,” Pen Bonnar said Tuesday. “He tried to flee to Phnom Penh to find the UN [High Commissioner for Refugees] office to ask for help.”

At least four other asylum-seekers were deported by Ratanakkiri police last Thursday, according to the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a group of 17 local rights groups.

Police deported Kasal Krok after they stopped his taxi and discovered he could not speak Kh­mer, said Hor Ang, Ratanakkiri’s dep­uty police chief.

“The deported man is not a Montagnard, but an illegal immigrant,” he insisted Tuesday.

Reached by telephone Tues­day, Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said he would no longer speak to reporters.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday that his ministry had received no re­ports of deportations.

But, he added, “Cambodian law enforcement officers have to implement the immigration law. If [foreigners] have no travel documents, they must be sent back.”

Thirty-seven Montagnards with little food, water or medicine have been interviewed and photographed in Ratanakkiri this past month.

They and local hill tribe sources say up to 250 asylum seek­ers may be in the province.

“I feel pity if they are real ref­ugees,” Khieu Sopheak said of those hiding in Ratanakkiri.

He deferred the question of when the UNHCR would be al­lowed to open offices in Ratan­akkiri or Mondolkiri provinces to Long Visalo, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When contacted Tuesday, Long Visalo promptly hung up the phone.

“Cambodia must do more to help the Montagnards irrespective of threats we receive from Vietnam,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday. UNHCR officials should be granted access to all Montagnard asylum seekers, he added.

“It is our duty, because we were refugees in Thailand,” Sam Rainsy said.

“If we had been treated as badly by the Thais as the Mont­agnards are treated, then we would’ve been dead.”

(Additional reporting by William Shaw)


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