Police are investigating the disappearance of a Vietnamese political dissident who fled to Cambodia in April and was under UN protection in Phnom Penh while seeking asylum, the Interior Ministry said Friday.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Inge Sturkenboom said that Le Tri Tue, who was designated a person of concern by the UNHCR and had applied for asylum through her agency, disappeared from his place of residence last week.
“We received this information. This case is under investigation by police,” Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said.
The investigation will be difficult because the UNHCR did not inform the Interior Ministry that it started interviewing Le Tri Tue for asylum, Khieu Sopheak claimed.
“If UNHCR is concerned they should inform the Interior Ministry,” he said, adding that the UNHCR is supposed to notify the ministry whenever they receive an application for asylum.
“This is not a territory controlled by the UNCHR,” he added. “We are a sovereign country.”
Sturkenboom, however, said that UNHCR had informed the government of Li Tri Tue’s asylum application.
“Like with all asylum seekers who come to UNHCR we informed the government,” she said.
“We hope the government can help us find him,” she added.
In July 2004, rights groups claimed that dissident Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Tri Luc, who was granted asylum by the UNHCR, was abducted by Cambodian and Vietnamese agents and forcibly returned to Vietnam. Officials at the time denied the involvement of Cambodian authorities in the monk’s abduction and forcible return.
Le Tri Tue, 29, a Vietnamese trade union leader, fled to Cambodia in the midst of a government crackdown on democracy activists in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch. Le Tri Tue had fallen afoul of the government for circulating letters and online publications calling for greater freedom and democracy in Vietnam, Rights Watch said.
Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached for comment on Friday.