Two Vietnamese Montagnards dropped off at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Ratanakkiri province in early August are now living with about 30 other Vietnamese Montagnards at a UNHCR safe house in Tuol Kok district. A source said they were flown to Phnom Penh about 10 days ago.
It was not clear Monday whether the two asylum seekers received official refugee status. Nobody answered the phone at the UNHCR’s Phnom Penh office on Monday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Monday that the UNHCR brought the refugees to Phnom Penh without the consent of the government.
“There are no negotiations,” Khieu Sopheak said in a telephone interview. “We need cooperation with the UNHCR. Now it seems that [the UN] is violating the sovereignty of the Cambodian people. We are not happy.”
US Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke said she did not have information on whether the US was negotiating with the UNHCR to resettle the Montagnards. In 2001 and 2002, the US resettled about 900 Montagnard refugees.
Since then, the government shut down two refugee camps and closed its border to the ethnic minority asylum seekers from Vietnam’s Central Highlands. In July, 54 Montagnards crossed the border and went into hiding in a jungle area in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces.
Two from that group were dropped off at the UNHCR office in Ratanakkiri and then flown to Phnom Penh. About 34 others split into smaller groups to search for food.
Khieu Sopheak said Monday he has received no official report that Montagnards are hiding in the jungle and called it a “rumor.”
Photographs of the Montagnards hiding in the jungle obtained from the source, who worked with Montagnard refugees in 2001, show a group of 12 men and three women. Their only possessions, the pictures show, are their clothes, a pot, a knife and two bottles of water.
In one picture, a girl is slicing a bamboo shoot into small pieces. The source said bamboo was one of their major sources of food.
The photographs are dated Sept 2.