Banlung, Ratanakkiri province – The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is scheduled to end its second mission to Ratanakkiri province today with the transfer to Phnom Penh of the final 26 Montagnard asylum-seekers collected from the jungle this past week.
Though UNHCR staff will leave the province this weekend, local human rights group Adhoc said Friday it had received fresh information that a group of 28 asylum seekers are hiding in dire conditions in Andong Meas district.
Earlier this month Ratanakkiri provincial authorities denied UNHCR access to Andong Meas’ Nhang commune area, where asylum-seekers were reported hiding, claiming the area was a disputed border zone between Cambodia and Vietnam and security could not be ensured.
“Police made it clear that we cannot go to that area because it is a very sensitive area between Cambodia and Vietnam. We cannot go to that area, at least at this moment,” Chung Ravuth, UNHCR protection and field assistant, said Friday.
“We don’t want to abandon anyone,” he said.
Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator, was adamant that the area where the asylum-seekers are reported hiding is Cambodian territory. “They are near Chong village. It’s deep inside Cambodian territory,” Pen Bonnar said.
Pen Bonnar added that provincial authorities had earlier claimed that Lum village in O’Ya-daw district was also too close to the Vietnamese border to allow UNHCR access.
“If we go once to Chong village then the authorities cannot deny. It’s in Cambodian territory,” Pen Bonnar said.
Ratanakkiri Second Deputy Governor Muong Poy said Friday that there was a long-running border dispute with Vietnam in Nhang commune, but added that Chong village was between 4 and 5 km from the Vietnamese border. “If [UNHCR] wants to go they can, but it will take two days to trek,” he said.