National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy on Saturday ordered Ratanakkiri provincial police to prevent Montagnard asylum-seekers from crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam, while RCAF Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Meas Sophea urged authorities to closely monitor “Christian activities” to prevent the province from becoming “a place of Christianity.”
Speaking at a meeting with local authorities in the provincial capital of Banlung, Hok Lundy ordered Ratanakkiri police to recruit 300 officers from their communities to guard nine checkpoints in the districts of Andong Meas and O’Yadaw.
“The authorities must strengthen to prevent the Montagnards [from entering], and the authorities must recruit 300 police officers,” Hok Lundy said, according to an audio recording of the meeting.
“The authorities have to convince the local people to be our spies in order to report how many Montagnards [enter Cambodia] to arrest them and send them back to Vietnam,” he said.
The police commissioner said each police checkpoint would receive two motorbikes from the Vietnamese government, as well as unspecified funding from the National Police.
He also ordered Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun to report to Vietnam once a month on Montagnards entering the country. Repeated calls to Kham Khoeun were unsuccessful Sunday.
Over the past week, New York-based Human Rights Watch has reported large arrests of predominately Christian Montagnards in Vietnam’s Central Highlands over the Christmas period.
While the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh last week reported 10 arrests in the Central Highlands over the holiday season, it denied people were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Following reportedly violent suppression of their mid-April Easter weekend demonstrations for land rights and religious freedoms, hundreds of Montagnards from Vietnam have crossed into Cambodia, seeking asylum.
Many of those Montagnards now under protection from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have since expressed their desire to stay in Cambodia, while the Ministry of Interior has warned that those who refuse resettlement to a third country will be returned to Vietnam.
UNHCR country representative Thamrongsak Meechubot declined immediate comment in response to Hok Lundy’s order on Sunday because he was out of the country.
Speaking at Saturday’s meeting, Meas Sophea echoed Hok Lundy’s comments and urged local officials to keep watch of Christians in the province.
Local hill tribe groups, many of whom are Christian, have in the past protected Montagnards hiding in the province’s jungles.
“The authorities have to watch Christian activities in the villages because they want to confuse our authorities,” he said. “Its policy is to serve the benefit of the Americans’ policy.”
The authorities have to take action “not to allow them to use our territory to become a place of Christianity,” he said.
Calls to US Embassy officials for comment were unsuccessful Sunday.
But Dok Narin, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Cult and Religion Affairs, dismissed Meas Sophea’s claims.
“I do not think that the US uses religion to serve its political interests,” he said.
Under the 1993 Constitution, Cambodians are ensured religious freedom.
Provincial Deputy police Chief Hor Ang, who attended Saturday’s meeting, confirmed Hok Lundy and Meas Sophea’s comments on Sunday.
Hor Ang said the provincial police will first recruit about 100 officers to guard the border to prevent Montagnards crossing.
He added: “Some Montagnards come to Cambodia because of economic crisis” rather than because of persecution.
Police recruits would be paid the same average salary of $30 per month as other officers in the National Police force, he said.
Provincial deputy Governor Muong Poy said he joined Saturday’s meeting but declined to comment on it Sunday.
Reached by phone Sunday, Meas Sophea hung up when asked about his comments on Christianity.