Montagnards Reportedly Sold to Vietnamese

Cambodian police in Ratan­akkiri province are investigating claims that eight Montagnards who might have been trying to reach a UN camp there were arrested by district authorities and “sold” to Vietnamese police.

The eight were part of a larger group of hill tribe asylum seekers seeking protection from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last week, police said.

They were captured after being ambushed by local Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities in Andong Meas district in Ratana­kkiri province. About 70 escaped and made it to UNHCR staff.

The Cambodians reportedly received around $300 for the eight Montagnards. Stories of Montagnards being turned over to the Vietnamese for money were common in the weeks after hill tribe members first started fleeing Vietnam’s Central High­lands for Cambodia.

But UNHCR staff say Cam­bodian authorities have coopera­ted with them, and last week’s return is the first reported deportation in recent months. Pro­vincial officials say this was probably done by a group acting independently of the government.

UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment, and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak he has not received any reports about recent deportations.

He said it was a police duty to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into Cambodia. Since the influx of Montagnards began, some government officials have claimed the asylum seekers were nothing more than illegal aliens and should be immediately sent back.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to give the UNHCR access to possible asylum seekers, and the number of Montagnards housed in two camps in Cambodia has since grown to more than 700.

More than 220 Montagnards came to UNHCR camps last month alone, and Dem Yarom, deputy provincial police chief, said 200 more may be hiding in the province’s jungles.

“I’ve ordered my policemen to investigate why Vietnamese police arrested [the Montag­nards] on Cambodian soil—how they could do this?” said Dem Yarom,

“Local authorities in the villages and communes there are very busy working with the Vietnamese because they get money from the Vietnamese,” said Dem Yarom, deputy provincial police chief. “My police are not doing this.”


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