UN’s Role in Montagnard Plight Questioned

Nikola Mihajlovic, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ country representative, visited a border checkpoint in Ratanakkiri pro­vince two days before three Mon­tagnard asylum seekers walked into the UN’s Banlung office, Ratanakkiri Police Chief Yoeung Baloung said Thursday.

“He sneaked there on Dec 7,” the police chief alleged. He said Mihajlovic told police he received permission to travel to the Cambo­dia-Vietnam border from Ratanak­kiri Governor Kham Kheoun. The governor could not be contacted, and neither could Mihajlovic.

“I cannot accuse him of encouraging Montagnards to cross the border,” Yoeung Baloung said. “I cannot accuse him of bringing the Montagnards to Banlung. But the three came at night two days after his visit.”

Three Montagnard asylum seekers reached the UNHCR’s Banlung office on Dec 10. The UNHCR has requested that the government grant it permission to transfer the Montagnards to Phnom Penh, though on Thurs­day the three were still in Banlung.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday  the Foreign Affairs Ministry was de­­­ciding the Montagnards’ fate.

Rights workers praised Mihaj­lo­vic’s visit to the border Thurs­day.

“As we’ve been pushing for, we welcome an active UNHCR presence in the border areas,” said a representative of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Last Friday, six Ratanakkiri police officers met with their counterparts in Vietnam’s Gia Lai province, which is located in the Central Highlands, to discuss security and cooperation along the border, Yoeung Baloung said.

Though he said the police representatives did not discuss the Montag­nards, Yoeung Baloung alleged human rights and UN workers helped the Montagnards.

“[UNHCR] has some agents based in the villages near the border and they always incite people to run into the UNHCR office with the hope to resettle abroad,” Yoeung Baloung said.

UN and rights workers denied the Montagnards received assistance getting from Vietnam to Banlung.

The Human Rights Watch representative wrote by e-mail that the organization suspects that the arrival of the three Montagnards in Banlung “provoked the latest round of bilateral talks about strengthening border security.”

“It’s only three people,” the e-mail said, “but the Vietnamese are re­portedly furious.”

and determined to completely shut off the flow.”


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