Montagnard Sympathizers Under Threat

O’Yadaw district, Ratanakkiri province – Ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw district have been issued a five-day ultimatum to cease assisting Montagnard asylum seekers and have been warned that if they fail to do so, they will face arrest and confinement to their villages, locals said on Sunday.

The threats of arrest and village confinement were made Saturday morning during a three-hour meeting called by O’Yadaw district Governor Bun Than, his deputy Puih Sor and Pate commune Chief Siu Vao with about 170 people from the four villages.

District authorities ordered the Jarai minority members in Plong, Kong, Pa’ar and Kong York villages to hand over the asylum seekers who they are believed to be assisting or they will “face big problems in their villages,” four locals who were at the meeting said on Sunday.

“They said that if we feed the refugees, we will be guilty,” said a 28-year-old villager who asked to remain anonymous.

“If we continue to feed the refugees, in five days they said they will stop the villagers from going to their plantations. They said, “Please show us the refugees and if you show us the refugees we will give you money,'” the villager added.

Minority villagers farm plantations called “chamkar,” which are usually located some distance from their villages requiring that villagers travel early in the morning into the jungle and return in the late evening.

The officials warned that those who are found to have assisted the Montagnard asylum seekers, of which an estimated 250 are reportedly in hiding in the province, including women and children, will be imprisoned from three to six months, said a second villager.

“They said that any refugees who come, we must not feed them and must report them to the district. They said the refugees are guilty and you are also guilty if you feed them and you will be punished,” said the 41-year-old man, who also requested that his identity not be revealed for security reasons.

District Governor Bun Than could not be contacted on Sunday.

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun declined to speak to a reporter who contacted him by telephone on Sunday evening. Ratanakkiri Deputy Police Chief Hor Ang also said he could not comment and directed questions to Kham Khoeun.

Pate commune chief Siu Vao said on Sunday that he did not know whether villagers will be prevented from farming their plantations, but confirmed that the authorities are seeking the asylum seekers to send them back to Vietnam.

Siu Vao said the asylum seekers should come out of the forest and gather in the village or on the road so that local authorities could deport them.

However, villagers interviewed on Sunday said they would not comply with the order and were willing to face the wrath of local authorities.

“If in five days [authorities] do not come, we will go to the district office to ask them what will happen. If they send the police to surround the village, we will stay quiet in our houses,” said a third villager, 31.

“We will keep trying to help them secretly. If they do not allow us, we will keep trying. [The asylum seekers] are my Jarai people,” he said.

“It is not right that they run from the problem and come here and get sick and have no food to eat.

Please protect the villagers from the authorities if they send the troops,” said the 28-year-old villager.

Cambodian government officials have denied the existence of the asylum seekers and accused those who may be in the province of plotting a movement that opposes the government in Vietnam.

More than 120 asylum seekers interviewed in Ratanakiri province in the past five weeks have appealed for humanitarian assistance from the UN and deny they are part of a separatist movement.

Government officials have also claimed they will give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to asylum seekers, but the refugee agency said the government has not given them a date.

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