Representatives from the UN center for human rights on Tuesday met with 20 relatives and friends of three Ratanakkiri province villagers arrested earlier this month after they assisted Montagnard asylum seekers, local rights group Adhoc said.
Thol Nguyen, 30, Kralan Phoeurng, 42, and Rocham Hloeur, 33, were arrested April 20 after assisting a group of 18 Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam who are now under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court charged the three with human trafficking in late April for allegedly helping “illegal immigrants” cross the border from Vietnam into Cambodia in return for money, court officials said.
Investigating Judge An Samnang said Tuesday that the Montagnards had paid the three men in return for bringing them to meet UNHCR representatives in Ratanakkiri’s Andong Meas district.
“They helped illegal immigrants for money,” he said, adding that police have supplied the court with evidence that proves the three took cash for their services.
Prosecutor Mey Sokhan, who charged the three men, declined to comment.
Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the men have been unjustly charged.
The villagers who met with representatives from the UN center for human rights “want the UN to help release the three suspects,” he added.
Henrik Stenman, acting representative for the UN center for human rights, said representatives on a “general monitoring mission” in Ratanakkiri were looking into the case, but said he could not provide more information until the team had briefed him on their findings.
Villager Kralan Marith said the three men had only helped asylum seekers, and that the Montagnards simply provided money to help pay their own way.
“They are not guilty…. They took money to buy food and rice for the Montagnards,” he added.
UNHCR spokeswoman Inge Sturkenboom said her agency is concerned by the case.
She added that because the three men who were charged are Cambodians and not refugees, they do not fall within the UNHCR mandate. But the UNHCR is in touch with the UN center for human rights and is following the case, she said.