As authorities in Ratanakkiri province continued to search for five Montagnard asylum seekers Monday, a district police chief warned that ethnic Jarai villagers found to be harboring the group would be arrested.
Rochom Chip, 48, a Jarai villager who aided more than 300 Montagnard asylum seekers between 2004 and 2006, said Monday that police arrived at his home in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw district Sunday night and asked him to thumbprint a document promising not to hide the group.
“The district police chief asked me to give my thumb print…if I am not involved with those Vietnamese [Montagnards], but I refused, because I have never seen those people,” he said, adding that officers threatened him with arrest before leaving.
Bakeo district police chief Mao Sun confirmed that he and four other police officers asked Mr. Chip to thumbprint a document, but would not say what it contained.
Mr. Sun, whose officers have been assisting O’Yadaw district police with the search, added that any Jarai found hiding the Montagnards would be arrested.
“We will make arrests if we find any people looking after these Vietnamese illegal immigrants, because they are illegally hiding humans from authorities,” he said.
Police began a door-to-door search Thursday for the Montagnards, an indigenous group that has long been persecuted in Vietnam on political and religious grounds.
Provincial police chief Nguon Koeun said Monday that police were currently centering their hunt for the “illegal immigrants” on Lom village in O’Yadaw district’s Paknhai commune.
Wan-Hea Lee, country director of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—which helped 13 other Montagnards reach Phnom Penh to apply for refugee status last month —said she believed assisting the Montagnards was not against the law.
“To the best of my knowledge, assisting asylum seekers to access the asylum application process is not a crime and therefore would not constitute a legitimate ground for arrest or trial,” she said.