UN Leaves After Unsuccessful Mission to Meet Montagnards

U.N. representatives returned to Phnom Penh on Friday after an unsuccessful attempt to meet a group of 13 Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in Ratanakkiri province.

The delegation traveled to the northeastern province on Wednesday in an effort to meet the asylum-seekers—who have fled Vietnam over the past five weeks—but came up against opposition from local authorities, who refused to allow them access to the Montagnards without permission from the Interior Ministry. 

“The team sent on the joint UN (OHCHR-HCR) mission departed from Ratanakiri this morning,” said Wan-Hea Lee, country head of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), via email Friday.

Chhay Thy, coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said the delegation decided to leave following two fruitless meetings with deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun.

“The U.N. representatives have returned to Phnom Penh to try and meet Ministry of Interior officials because the deputy police chief told them again that they couldn’t do anything without the ministry’s permission,” Mr. Thy said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak—who has previously dismissed the group as “illegal immigrants”—said a request had already been passed on to the ministry’s immigration department.

“This letter has been received by my ministry and it has been passed to the department of immigration, so the U.N. [High Commissioner for Refugees] should contact them,” he said.

Sok Phal, head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, declined to comment.

The Montagnards, who are all ethnic Jarai, have so far evaded arrest despite local police searching for them since they fled alleged violent repression in their homeland.

A Jarai villager who has been assisting the Montagnards said their living conditions are deteriorating.

“They are still hiding in the forest, but they are lacking food and the police continue to search for them,” he said,speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

[email protected], [email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.