Official: Red Cross Should Aid Montagnards RReMontagnards

ratanakkiri province – The Cam­bodian Red Cross should help ailing Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in the northeast jungle regardless of their nationality, the org­anization’s director in Ratan­akkiri province said Thursday.

“The Red Cross’s mission, [is to] help the vulnerable people,” said Red Cross provincial director Phath Keomuny. “If we have en­ough food…we can help them with­out care if they are Viet­nam­ese or Cambodian, because they need to [stay] alive.”

“The government is so tight with the refugee[s],” Phath Keo­muny said. His office is preparing to report on the grave living conditions of Montagnard asylum seekers to the main Red Cross office in Phnom Penh, he added. “It is really difficult to help the [Mont­ag­n­ards] because the prov­incial government keeps information about them a secret. We are neutral, we want to help the victim[s],” said Som Chanseang, de­puty director of the Cambodian Red Cross’s Ratanakkiri office. Offered a shipment of 250 mosquito nets provided through The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign, Phath Keomuny re­fused, saying his staff had no vehicles to transport the nets to the jun­gle.

My Samedy, secretary-general of the Cambodian Red Cross in Phnom Penh, said Thursday his organization cannot provide humanitarian assistance until the provincial government authorities report the living conditions of the Montagnards to the provincial Red Cross office.

My Samedy said he believed media reports about Montagnard asylum seekers languishing in the jungle. “But what can we do?” he asked. “The provincial [government] authorities never report the [Montagnards] to the Red Cross. All the Red Cross does is wait for the report, and [then] it will send humanitarian assistance.”

Thirty-seven Montagnard asylum-seekers lacking adequate food, drinking water and medicine have been interviewed and photo­graphed in Ratanakkiri in the past month. Those interviewed corroborate local hill tribe sources who say as many as     250 Montagnards are hiding in the provinces, and are becoming desperate for food.                                    CPP spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith did not answer phone calls seeking comment late Thursday.

The Red Cross is not going to travel to Ratanakkiri without an agreement with the Cambodian government, Antony Spalton, head of the delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent So­cieties, said Thursday. Like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross needs the government’s permission to ac­cess the area, Spalton said. “The Cambo­dian Red Cross has offered its services to the government.”

Civil society organizations condemned the lack of humanitarian as­sistance and protection being of­fered to the asylum-seekers in Ratanakkiri. Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the Cambo­dian Red Cross should act without the government’s permission. “It is their job to help any hu­man being in distress,” she said.

Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said Thurs­day that the government should not block the work of the Red Cross or the UNHCR. “It’s getting worse and worse,” she said. “They will die. It’s horrible to die from starvation and disease.”

(Reporting by Corinne Purtill, Yun Sam­ean and Daniel Ten Kate)


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