Red Cross To Discuss Help for Montagnards

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will hold an internal meeting today to discuss ways to provide humanitarian assistance to Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in Ratanakkiri province, Antony Spalton, head of the delegation, said Tuesday.

“We may be in a position to try and provide humanitarian assistance,” Spalton said, citing his or­ganization’s good relationship with the government.

A group of 21 Montagnard asylum-seekers who fled Vietnam’s Cen­tral Highlands face food shortages and sickness as they have languished for weeks in makeshift shelters deep in Ra­tanakkiri’s rain-soaked jungle.

In in­terviews Sunday, the predominately Jarai minority asylum-seekers and local sources said around 160 Montagnards are hiding along the border. Spalton said the Red Cross would not try to relocate the Mon­tagnards, but could provide humanitarian assistance such as mosquito nets, food and drinking water.

Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the government’s National Hu­man Rights Committee, did not answer repeated calls for comment Tuesday. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also did not answer repeated calls.

To the chagrin of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, King Norodom Sihanouk, opposition lawmakers and several West­ern nations, the government has adopted a policy of defining Montagnards as illegal immigrants and deporting them.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the government’s policy stemmed from its weakness to defy Hanoi.“Cambodia is far from being strong enough to stand up on its principles of helping distressed people,” she said.

Chea Vannath said the government has pleased the five nations that have the most influence over Cambo­dia: Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and the US, which has re­set­tled hundreds of Mon­tagnards in the past few years.

The US, she said, is pleased with the government’s compliance in fighting its so-called War on Terror, and therefore the Montagnard issue takes a back seat.“Since Sept 11, there is no black or white on democracy and human rights,” she said.


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