Ethnic minority villagers in Mondolkiri province have reported seeing what they believed to be the decapitated remains of Montagnard asylum-seekers, officials from the local human rights NGO Adhoc said Monday.
The NGO began an investigation into the reports on May 2, when ethnic Phnong villagers on the border of Mondolkiri’s O’Reang and Pech Chhreada districts reported finding the decomposing, disembodied heads, Adhoc provincial director Sam Sarin said Monday.
Adhoc has received three thumb-printed statements from witnesses, confirming that they saw the human heads, Chan Soveth, deputy chief of Adhoc’s monitoring unit, said Monday.
“One witness said he saw one head, and some said they saw two heads, which had a bad smell and were decomposed. Witnesses suspected that those were Montagnard heads because no villagers were missing,” Sam Sarin said.
On Sunday, Radio Free Asia broadcast interviews with several villagers in Mondolkiri who claimed to have seen the disembodied heads.
“I think the head was a Montagnard’s head, because the villagers didn’t miss” anyone, said one Phnong minority villager who was not named in the report.
RCAF soldiers stationed in O’Reang and Pech Chhreada barred Adhoc officials from entering the area, Sam Sarin added, preventing the group from gathering more evidence on the alleged deaths.
“We want to conduct an investigation, but we cannot,” he said.
Provincial authorities will not conduct an investigation into the reported beheadings, said Mondolkiri First Deputy Governor Koy Khun Hour. He added that he doubted the veracity of the villagers’ reports.
“I have not seen the Montagnards’ heads. I think there were no [beheadings]. They (Radio Free Asia) broadcast because they want to defame the authorities,” he said. “We will not conduct an investigation because the report was not true.”
Witnesses are welcome to direct police to the spot where they claim to have found the heads, Koy Khun Hour said. However, all human rights workers are barred from the area for their own safety, he said.
“That area is only forests. Why would they want to go there? That area belongs to soldiers,” he said.
Provincial police investigated the site where villagers reported seeing the remains but found nothing, Mondolkiri Acting Police Chief Sam Sam Ath said Monday.
“We went to the place and searched everywhere, but we couldn’t find any heads as people claimed,” Sam Sam Ath said. “I think this is a rumor.”
Travel in Pech Chhreada district and other areas near the border has been restricted since demonstrations April 10 and April 11 in the neighboring Central Highlands of Vietnam, and what local Phnong villagers have described as brutal police measures to find and deport hundreds of asylum-seekers reportedly hiding in the province’s jungle.
Local ethnic minority sources and human rights workers estimate that more than 200 Montagnard refugees are currently hiding in tiny jungle encampments in the rain-soaked jungles of neighboring Ratanakkiri province.
In May, human rights workers and opposition lawmaker Son Chhay called for an investigation into reports that Cambodian security forces in Mondolkiri raped and robbed a group of about 80 Montagnard asylum-seekers who had fled to Cambodia before deporting them back to Vietnam. Provincial police officials also denied those claims.