NGO Urges Gov’t Probe of Montagnards Ouster

Human Rights Watch has called on the government to investigate the forced removal of 101 Montag­nards from a Phnom Penh refugee facility last week, and to discipline or prosecute officials who authorized or used excessive force.

Police brandishing batons en-tered the facility on July 20, hitting Montagnards who did not want to leave and then forcing them onto buses, before repatriating 94 of them to Vietnam.

“There was no excuse for using electric batons or beating unarmed individuals engaged in peaceful civil disobedience,” Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch, said in a Monday statement.

“The use of unnecessary force shows just how little the Cambo­dian government cares about po­lice discipline and about the well-being of the Montagnards,” Adams said.

Khieu Sopheak, Interior Min­istry spokesman, said he had not seen the statement and declined comment.

Chhay Sinarith, director of the ministry’s Information Depart­ment, said Thursday that police did not use excessive force.

Rights Watch was also critical of articles in the Vietnamese media that quote some of the deportees saying that they were repentant and happy to be home.

“In a one-party state with a long history of forced ‘re-education’ and little freedom of speech, reports of re­pentant returnees are chilling,” Adams said. “They reek of propaganda and suggest coercion and fear.”

Rights Watch said that further re­turns of Montagnards should not go ahead until there are guarantees that they can be conducted in safety, and that international UN High Commissioner for Refugees staff have unrestricted access to re­turnees before, during and after any repatriation.

The UNHCR has said it will check up on the 94, although it is not legally obliged to.

On previous UNHCR visits to meet returnees in Vietnam’s rest­ive Central Highlands, “a single UNHCR official, a Vietnamese na­tional, briefly met returnees, often in the presence of police and government officials, making it impossible for returnees to speak freely,” Rights Watch said.


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