Police in Ratanakkiri province’s Andoung Meas district on Friday arrested five people and deported them back to Vietnam for illegal immigration, while rights workers claimed the deportees were Montagnard asylum seekers.
Andoung Meas district police chief Kham Peang maintained Sunday that the five who were arrested in the forest and deported were not refugees.
“They are illegal immigrants,” he said. “They can be regarded as refugees only when there is war and political instability in Vietnam. Vietnam has peace and stability.”
Kham Peang added that Christian groups in Vietnam have been encouraging Montagnards to enter Cambodia.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said the five people deported were Montagnard refugees.
“Police should not deport the Montagnards,” he said, adding that eight other Montagnards, five of them children, are still hiding in Andoung Meas district.
Pen Bonnar reported last week that Ratanakkiri police and Vietnamese agents were hunting for 25 asylum seekers along the Vietnamese border. Provincial police officials claimed that the increased police presence in Andoung Meas was intended to maintain security during the Khmer New Year.
Adhoc also reported last month that police had arrested and deported 10 other Montagnard asylum seekers, a claim provincial officials also denied.
Deputy district governor Im Sovann said police had not informed him that they would be making the arrests. “It is very difficult to say whether they are refugees or illegal immigrants,” he added.
Officials at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
An official at the Vietnamese Embassy said Sunday he had no knowledge of the Andoung Meas deportations and referred questions to embassy officials who were outside the country and could not be contacted.
On Friday, a 38-year-old Vietnamese central highlander identified as A Kak was sentenced to two years in prison for organizing “illegal immigration” into Cambodia, the state-controlled Vietnam News Agency reported.
A Kak and nine others were arrested in Cambodia on Dec 30, 2006 and later extradited to Vietnam by Cambodian police, according to VNA.
Ratanakkiri officials contacted Sunday said they were not familiar with the case, while the Vietnamese Embassy official declined comment.