UN Delegation Blocked From Meeting Montagnards—Again

The U.N. has failed in its efforts to access a group of Montagnards hiding in Ratanakkiri province for the second time this month after the provincial governor refused to authorize a meeting with the asylum seekers without a permission letter from the ministries of interior and foreign affairs.

Provincial police chief Nguon Koeun, who attended a meeting between the U.N. and provincial governor Thorng Savun on Tuesday, said Mr. Savun told the delegation they would not be allowed to access the group, who local officials still doubt are genuine Montagnards.

“We are not able to cooperate with the U.N. officials…because they don’t have a permission letter from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Mr. Koeun, who previously vowed to deport the group if they were caught.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Tuesday that he did not know anything about the case.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the U.N. remained committed to locating the asylum seekers and bringing them to the capital.

“The United Nations looks forward to seeing action taken toward this end, which is becoming urgent,” Ms. Lee said in an email.

“The United Nations does not have a view concerning the quality of internal communication within the Ministry of Interior,” she added.

The latest failed trip to the northeastern province comes after a U.N. delegation returned to the capital on December 5 following a fruitless three-day effort to meet the asylum seekers, after provincial authorities then demanded a permission letter from the Interior Ministry.

An Interior Ministry statement released last week, quoting Interior Minister Sar Kheng, said the U.N. would be allowed to meet with the group if its presence was confirmed.

The 13 Montagnards—members of an indigenous group concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—have been camped in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district for seven weeks and have so far evaded local police.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, questioned the government’s motives in the ongoing saga.

“When top levels of the Cambodian government want something done in the provinces, they order it and it is done. So the UN leaving Ratanakiri empty handed for a second time raises serious concerns that there is a lack of commitment in Phnom Penh to protect this group of Montagnards,” he said in an email.

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