UN Asks Permission to Transfer Montagnards

The UN refugee office has asked the government to allow three Vietnamese Montagnards staying at the UN’s Ratanakkiri office to be transferred to Phnom Penh, an Interior Ministry official said Friday.

“The [Interior] Ministry has not answered back yet,” said Nuth Sa An, Interior Ministry secretary-general. “We want more explanation from the Ratanakkiri provincial police before making any conclusions on those people.”

Last week, the three Monta­gnard asylum seekers entered Banlung, the provincial capital, and walked into the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees of­fice. A UNHCR official said the three claimed their land was confiscated by Vietnamese soldiers.

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun requested that the In­terior Ministry close the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Ratanakkiri, Nuth Sa An said. The Interior Ministry, he added, is passing the matter to the Foreign Affairs Ministry for consideration.

“We think the [Montagnards] were brought from the border to Ban­lung by UN and human rights staff,” Nuth Sa An said. “They did not come by themselves. This is the problem.”

UNHCR officials and Kham Khoeun did not return phone calls Friday.

Along with the request for the government to allow the Mon­tagnards’ transfer to Phnom Penh, the UNHCR also gave the government an asylum seeker draft law it helped write, a senior government official said Fri­day. The law must be reviewed by the Interior and For­eign Affairs ministries. Cambo­dia will be the first nation in the re­gion with such a law if it is adopted.

The UNHCR currently determines the refugee status of asylum seekers in Cambodia. Fol­lowing an agreement be­tween Prime Minister Hun Sen and Gen­eva-based UNHCR officials on Sept 8, the global body has been work­ing with Cambodian authorities to set up an internal government body to determine asylum claims.


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