Ratanakkiri Police Block UN Efforts to Find Montagnards

Armed police blocked a group of U.N. and Interior Ministry officials on Friday morning who were attempting to enter ethnic Ja­rai villages in Ratanakkiri prov­ince, where 13 Montagnard asylum seekers are hiding, according to local officials, the U.N., and a rights monitor.

Hours later, the U.N’s human rights office in Geneva issued a statement urging the Cambodian government “to take urgent action” to ensure the group are es­corted to Phnom Penh to seek asylum. 

“Between 10:00 and 11:00 local time the joint UN/Ministry of Interior team were stopped at a road block as [they] attempted to enter the area where the Mon­tagnards are believed to be hiding,” says the statement, signed by Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The statement says that provincial police are continuing to search for the Montagnards and that, if deported back to Vietnam, the group “may be in danger of being subjected to human rights violations.”

The latest incident comes after the U.N. delegation failed on two previous missions in recent weeks to access the group of asylum seekers, who crossed the border over the past two months and have since been hiding in the forests of Lumphat district.

Suoy Thay, Lumphat district police chief, said that he ordered his forces to block U.N. officials in Seda commune as he had not received authorization from his superiors to allow the group into the area.

“This morning our forces stopped a car carrying a group of U.N. officials because we did not receive any instructions or orders from our provincial superiors to allow them to talk to people,” said Mr. Thay, adding that the group claimed to have received permission from provincial governor Thorng Savun.

After about 30 minutes of discussions, in which the Mr. Thay said the U.N. told police they only planned to meet with local villagers, the delegation returned to the provincial capital Banlung City.

The 13 Montagnards—members of an indigenous group concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—all claim to have fled violence and religious persecution by the Vietnamese government, ostensibly for observing an outlawed form of Protestantism. The indigenous minority group, also known as Degar, has long been persecuted for supporting U.S. and French forces during the First and Second Indochina wars.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said some of the 10 police officers who stopped the U.N. delegation on Friday were carrying AK-47 assault rifles. He added that top-level provincial officials were planning to convene to discuss the incident, but said no date for the meeting had been set.

sothear@cambodiadaily.com, wright@cambodiadaily.com

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