sen monorom district, Mondolkiri province – Human rights workers and Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ahmad Yahya said Wednesday that four Vietnamese Montagnard asylum seekers were detained on Sunday and deported to Vietnam.
The four Montagnards were part of a group of about 30 that had recently crossed into Cambodia at Mondolkiri’s remote Koh Nhek district.
The fate of the remaining 26 asylum seekers is unknown, but sources in Mondolkiri have reported that the group has dispersed and is in hiding in the district’s jungles, Ahmad Yahya said.
“The government has assigned many police to close off the border and they arrested four [asylum seekers], one lady and three gentlemen,” he said Wednesday.
One of the asylum seekers attempted to bribe the arresting Cambodian officers with promises of sending them money if they were settled overseas as refugees, but the officers refused, said Ahmad Yahya, quoting a source in the province.
“The people were very worried for their lives if [the police] send them back,” Ahmad Yahya said.
Sam Sarin, director of the Mondolkiri office of local rights group Adhoc, also confirmed the deportations, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.
Amid mounting reports of Vietnamese Montagnards being hunted and summarily deported by Cambodian authorities, a Mondolkiri police chief confirmed Tuesday that officers have been rewarded by Vietnam for deporting “many” asylum seekers.
In response to a question
about Montagnard deportations, Mondolkiri Deputy Police Chief Um Pho told a public conference on Tuesday that his officers had an agreement with Vietnam to deport Montagnards. In return, Cambodian police officers were given gifts by Vietnam to “encourage” them in their work, said Um Pho at the public forum organized by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“About the immigration and Vietnamese rewarding us and giving us gifts, it is a clear principle between Cambodia and Vietnam over the border issue,” Um Pho said.
“If Vietnamese immigrants illegally enter Cambodia they must be deported, and if Cambodian immigrants illegally enter Vietnam also they can be sent back,” he said.
“Both sides have signed the agreement to reward and give the gift to border officials to encourage them to seek out illegal immigrants. Our border police have arrested and deported back many times and Vietnam rewarded us as an encouragement,” he added.
Mondolkiri Provincial Police Chief Reach Samnang denied his deputy’s statement on Wednesday, saying there were no deportations or arrests of asylum seekers in his province.
“There is no agreement, no arrests, nothing,” Reach Samnang said.
Um Pho was attending the public forum on behalf of the provincial authorities, but was not authorized to speak on behalf of the government, he said.
Last week rights sources in Mondolkiri reported the deportation earlier this month of 160 refugees who had fled a police and military crackdown in Vietnam’s Central Highlands following protests on April 10 and April 11, when thousands of Montagnards took to the streets to demand the return of ancestral lands and religious freedom.
In 2001, demonstrations similar to this month’s protests resulted in more than 1,000 Montagnards fleeing to UN refugee camps in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces. However, both camps were shut in 2002 after the Cambodian government agreed to a proposal by Washington to resettle more than 900 of the asylum seekers in the US.
The Cambodian government has since branded all Montagnards fleeing into Cambodia as illegal immigrants and the UN refugee agency has been denied permission to travel to border regions. Around 80 asylum seekers are currently housed in a UN High Commissioner for Refugees facility in Phnom Penh, the majority having made their way to Phnom Penh since the beginning of this year.
Montagnard support groups in the US have claimed that hundreds of protesters were killed following the recent mass demonstrations in the Central Highlands. The Vietnamese government has acknowledged two deaths during the protest, one protester and one member of the security forces.
Vietnamese authorities have blamed the unrest on extremists in the US attempting to destabilize the Central Highlands.
The Associated Press on Wednesday reported an interview with a Vietnamese governor in the Central Highlands, who strongly implied that the US government had played a role in igniting the mass protests.
Nguyen Van Lang, chairman of the Dak Lak provincial People’s Committee, called a visit by US officials to the Central Highlands one day before the protests “a very strange coincidence,” AP reported.
Villagers were told by protest organizers to march in the streets and that the US and UN would send planes for them to be resettled in another country, Nguyen Van Lang told AP.
US Embassy officials in Hanoi have denied the accusations, saying the trip was a routine visit that had been planned in advance.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Ten Kate)