Reports: Gov’t Expels More Montagnards

Cambodian authorities have repatriated another 35 Viet­namese Montagnards as they tried to seek asylum in Moldolkiri province, breaking their promise to respect the refugee treaty it signed, officials and Vietnamese state media reported.

Cambodian police handed over the 35 to authorities in Vietnam’s Dak Lak province before they could get to a UNHCR camp in Mon­dolkiri, according to the Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People’s Army) daily newspaper. A Vietnamese official told the newspaper the hill tribe members were returned to their home province of Gia Lai later on Friday.

The handover was a violation of a promise Cambodia made last week to the office of the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees.

It was the second time this month Cambodian authorities expelled Vietnamese asylum seekers.

On March 2, Cambodia ex­pelled 63 Montagnards as they sought refuge from Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

A new round of talks on the issue between the UNHCR, Viet­nam and Cambodia broke down last week because Vietnam would not agree to UNHCR demands for access to the Montagnards’ home villages in Vietnam’s Cen­tral Highlands.

The UNHCR did manage to extract a promise from Cam­bodia—that it would respect its international obligations and cease deporting refugees.

Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, which sets guidelines for the treatment of asylum seekers. Capturing and deporting would-be refugees is a violation of this treaty, as the UNHCR has pointed out before.

UNHCR officials could not be reached for comment Sunday on the latest deportations. US Embassy officials, who have previously been outspoken critics of the handling of the refugee problem, declined to comment, saying they felt the current situation was too sensitive.

About 1,000 Montagnards re­main in UNCHR camps in Cam­bodia, where they fled from the Central Highlands last year.

The Montagnards say the Viet­namese government persecuted them for their religious and political views.

The Vietnamese government continues to insist the Mon­tagnards are being persuaded by foreign organizations—especially from the US—to leave their homes.

Cambodia, Vietnam and the UNHCR signed an agreement in January that would allow for voluntary repatriation of Mon­tagnard asylum seekers and give the UNHCR access to the Central Highlands. But the UNHCR has never been satisfied with the access it has been given to the Central Highlands.

Some Montagnards have volunteered to return to Vietnam. On Thursday, 43 of those volunteers were taken from Ratanak­kiri province back to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities, outside of UNHCR auspices. The UNHCR called it a “spontaneous repatriation” and Nikola Mihajlovic, the UNHCR chief in Phnom Penh, said he was not bothered by the action.

A Cambodian police official said Sunday he had talked to the Ratanakkiri refugees and was satisfied their return was truly voluntary.

(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse)



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