Montagnards Still in Hiding; Authorities Remain Silent

Five Montagnard asylum seekers who crossed into Ratanakkiri province from Vietnam on Saturday remained in hiding Monday, a villager looking after the group said.

The arrival of the five comes as 13 other Montagnards—an indigenous group concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—who fled to Cambodia last year are being questioned by the Interior Ministry, which will determine whether they qualify for refugee status.

An ethnic Jarai villager living in Ratanakkiri, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said the latest group of asylum seekers was now hiding in a “safe area.”

“I wish to request that the UNHCR and the government rescue those people from the forest immediately because they face food shortages and mosquito bites,” the villager said.

Vivian Tan, the regional press officer for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said her office was still working to confirm that the five are seeking asylum in Cambodia.

Ratanakkiri provincial governor Thorng Savun said he had not received any information about the group, but threatened to file a complaint against a reporter if he was concealing information about the Montagnards’ whereabouts.

“If you are hiding those people, I will file a complaint against you through Adhoc,” he said.

O’Yadaw district police chief Choup Vannarak said on Sunday that he had deployed officers to find the Montagnards. Contacted Monday, he declined to comment.

Chhay Thy, coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said he had received a call from a U.S. Embassy official asking about the five.

Asked why the U.S. Embassy was inquiring about the Montagnards, deputy embassy spokesman Courtney Woods did not answer the question.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the protection of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)

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