Montagnards Leave Jungle Under UN Care

Sen Monorom, Mondolkiri province – More than 150 Mon­tagnards were trucked to this provincial capital Friday after walk­ing out of remote jungle hideouts Thursday under the protection of two officials from the UN High Commissioner for Ref­ugees.

The Montagnards, who fled to Cambodia in recent weeks trying to escape unrest in Vietnam’s Cen­tral Highlands, remained hidden in the province’s Pech Chre­ada district until their situation became “untenable,” according to sources.

Two UNHCR staff walked the group the 12 km from their re­mote jungle location to Bou Sra town Thurs­day.

They were taken to the capital in three Russian trucks Friday afternoon, but provincial officials that evening appeared unwilling to deal with the group. Instead they were sent to a reception center about 5 km outside of town that was previously used for Cam­bodian refugees returning after the July 1997 fighting.

Provincial officials appeared to refuse the group any sort of po­lice or military protection. A provincial official was overheard saying that UNHCR would only have jurisdiction over the group for two days, at which time Cam­bo­dian immigration laws would take effect.

Though appearing scared and tired, the group—made up of men, women and children—seemed to be in good health after their lengthy stay in some of the country’s densest forest. One observer said they knelt and prayed with the arrival of the trucks.

The exodus from the jungle came just days after the disappearance of a family of seven Montagnards who had also fled Vietnam and were under UN protection.

The seven were reportedly put on a truck Tuesday by six men, two of whom were identified as local police, and have not been seen since, sources in Mondolkiri province said.

The sources said they believe the family—38-year-old Dien Y Lien, his wife Maria Nam Linh and their five children—were taken to the Vietnamese border and turned over to authorities there.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International is urging pressure be brought to bear on Cambodian and Vietnam­ese authorities following the family’s disappearance.

“Vietnamese asylum seekers who have been previously forc­ibly returned from Cambodia to Vietnam have been ill-treated and sentenced to long prison terms,” Amnesty International said in a statement released Friday.

Montagnard sources in Mon­dolkiri are not optimistic they will be found.

Though at least 24 Montag­nards previously brought under UNHCR care were resettled in the US last month, diplomatic sources have said that asylum in Cambodia might be a better alternative.

Shortly before Dien Y Lien and his family were taken away, National Police director-General Hok Lundy assured US Ambas­sador Kent Wiedemann there would be no deportations of Montagnards.

Government and diplomatic officials have explained the disappearance as a “disconnect” be­tween orders given in the capital and the actions of local officials.

“It’s a question of management of the issue from far away,” one diplomatic official said Thursday. NGO sources have reported more forced deportations in Koh Khek district, more than 100 km from Sen Monorom.

But the diplomatic official said there now ap­pears to be greater cooperation between UNHCR and Mondol­kiri officials.

Amnesty International’s statement marks the first international acknowledgment of what some observers say could be a grow­ing refugee problem inside Cambo­dia. Hundreds more Mon­tag­nards are reported to be hiding in eastern Cambodia, though no numbers have been confirm­ed.



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