A team of U.N. officials reportedly returned to Phnom Penh from Ratanakkiri province on Friday after failing yet again to meet with any of the nearly 40 Montagnard asylum seekers hiding in a forest in O’Yadaw district.
The three workers had been attempting to reach 38 Montagnards, who have crossed into the province from Vietnam since November fleeing alleged persecution by Hanoi, in the hopes of taking them to Phnom Penh to have their refugee claims processed.
However, U.N. efforts to assist the asylum seekers have repeatedly been met with opposition from local authorities. U.N. officials were twice blocked from meeting with Montagnards in December.
Deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun said the team had left Ratanakkiri for Phnom Penh after a short meeting with the provincial police chief asking for cooperation on the issue.
“We have not got any problem with cooperating with them, but we require them to have a permission letter from the Ministry of Interior” to meet with the Montagnards, he said.
Ngoy Dorn, O’Yadaw deputy district police chief, said the U.N. team had also visited his office.
“The U.N. came here and asked that if police find them, do not send them back to Vietnam and please send them to provincial police office or Ministry of Interior,” Mr. Dorn said.
An ethnic Jarai villager who is assisting the Montagnards said that security guards hired by local authorities were combing the area to find Montagnards hiding in the forest, but none had been arrested to date.
“Security guards are patrolling through the village twice a day, in the morning from 6 to 7 a.m. and the afternoon from 5 to 6 p.m. They are looking for the refugees who are hiding in the village,” said the villager, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
The U.N. did not respond to requests for comment. However, Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Thursday that the mission had been blocked from traveling in the province.