Officials Deny Government Torched UN Camp

Government officials Friday refuted published accounts char­ging the government with allowing the looting and burning at a UN re­fugee camp in Mondolkiri prov­ince within an hour of the camp being emptied and the Mon­tag­nard asylum seekers shipped to Phnom Penh.

In a statement issued by the Mi­nistry of Interior, the government said it denies “newspapers’ reports saying the government burned down the camp,” according to a ministry official reached Sunday.

The government respects the 1951 Convention on Refugees which it signed, and demonstrated such with its willingness to transport the asylum seekers to Phnom Penh to resolve the yearlong stalemate over the Montag­nards, who fled Vietnam claiming gov­ern­ment persecution, the official said.

Friday’s statement was not distributed to all media, but the ministry official said it stated that the UN and Cambodian government had agreed some of the materials in the camp would be returned to the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Re­fugees, some materials would be given to people living near the camp, and control of the land would be returned to local officials.

Local residents stormed the camp and took bamboo and wood construction materials, the official said, adding that local police burned garbage and cleared the area for development.

The Montagnards began fleeing to Cambodia in February 2001 after a Vietnamese government crackdown in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

The government has a copy of the UN agreement, the official said, but the official would not provide a copy of the agreement.

One UNHCR official Sunday dis­­­puted the government’s ac­count. “The camp was burned down when it was in its original shape,” Chong Ravuth said. “There was no warning that it was to be burned down that day.”

Materials that could have been saved, including computers, were lost in the fire, he said.

A UNHCR official in Mondolkiri said “there was no agreement between the UN and government on what to do with the camp.” Lo­cal police watched as looters came to the camp and burned it down, and did not do anything to stop them, the UNHCR official said.

Phone calls to the UNHCR di­rec­tor’s office in Phnom Penh were not answered Sunday, nor were calls to the director of the new UNHCR camp for the asylum seekers in Phnom Penh, located at an abandoned garment factory near Old Stadium.

The Mondolkiri camp was burned down April 15. Witnesses said Cambodian police and Viet­na­mese officials set fire to the camp soon after the last of 18 trucks left with some 550 Montagnard asylum seekers, headed for Phnom Penh on the first step toward eventual resettlement in the US.

About half of the camp was de­stroyed, said an eyewitness.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Vietnamese border sealed to prevent more Montag­nards from fleeing into Cambodia.

The Montagnards are not allowed to stay in Cambodia, and anyone who remains will be sent back to Vietnam, the Cambodian government has warned.



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