US Ambassador Charles Ray said Friday that a diplomatic visit to northeast border areas where Montagnard asylum seekers are hiding in the jungle would not help protect them.
Diplomats from the US, Canada, Britain and Germany requested access to the border areas during a visit with co-Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng late last month.
“If we go to the border and we look for Montagnard asylum seekers, then how do we assure they’re being protected?” Ray asked, adding that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was responsible for refugee protection.
“We are pushing for the people who have the responsibility to take care of those people who are fleeing persecution to do their job and do it effectively and…to do it without trying to make headlines while doing it,” Ray added. He was responding to a question at a press briefing Friday at the US Embassy to discuss the US Trafficking in Persons Report released Monday.
Human rights workers estimate more than 200 Montagnard asylum seekers are hiding in Cambodia. Less than two weeks ago, a group of 21 Montagnard asylum seekers hiding in Ratanakkiri’s thick jungle with few resources requested assistance and protection from the international community. The UN refugee agency is barred from traveling to border areas, and Montagnard sources said last week that those in hiding were affected by illness.
Canadian Ambassador Stephanie Beck, who attended the meeting last month with Sar Kheng, said Friday that she had been away from Cambodia and was unaware if the diplomats still intended to travel to the northeast.
“We asked if we could go up to Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri” provinces, she said. She declined to comment on whether she thought it was still a good idea.
US Charge d’Affaires Mark Storella, German Deputy Head of Mission Frank Ruckert and British Deputy Head of Mission John Mitchell also attended the meeting with Sar Kheng.
“I don’t know why the [US diplomats] changed their minds,” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Friday.
“I want them to see first-hand exactly what is happening there,” he added. “You know, people are suffering.”
“We asked if we could go up to Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri” provinces, she said, adding that no specifics were mentioned.
“We were finding out what our options were,” Beck said.