The Vietnamese ambassador on Monday firmly denied a new report by Human Rights Watch that accuses Hanoi of mounting a fresh round of arrests, violence and intimidation against the ethnic minorities of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, collectively known as Montagnards. The report also claims Vietnamese government harassment has caused an increase in Montagnard asylum seekers trying to enter Cambodia, where it says their rights as refugees are frequently denied.
Referring to the group’s allegations as “slander,” Nguyen Duy Hung said, “We have resisted this many times. These kinds of reports are not true.”
“We are treating the ethnic minority people in the [Central Highlands] the same as ethnic Vietnamese. We are trying to develop the area so that the people there can have a better life,” the ambassador said.
He also denied that Montagnards have been fleeing Vietnam for Cambodia.
A human rights worker in Mondolkiri province agreed with the Vietnamese ambassador Monday, saying Montagnards have not entered Cambodia recently.
“They cannot come here now because there are a lot of soldiers and police patrolling the border,” he said.
The rights worker added that one battalion of soldiers and half a battalion of police officers have that province’s border locked down and are prepared to arrest and repatriate any Montagnards attempting to cross the border.
Under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, to which Cambodia is party, nations are obliged to give refugees temporary asylum and protection.
Cambodia began refusing Montagnards entry last year. According to Human Rights Watch, 100 Montagnards have been illegally deported to Vietnam since the start of 2003.
Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun also had no news of asylum seekers. He did report that more than 200 police officers and soldiers are guarding a stretch of about 200 km of the Vietnamese border.
Mohammed Al-Nassery of the International Organization of Migration in Phnom Penh said Monday that he did not know when the 42 Montagnards still at the refugee transit center in Phnom Penh, who are awaiting resettlement, would be allowed to leave Cambodia.
According to the report, the government announced earlier this month that it will close the refugee center after the 42 depart.
Om Yienteng, Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s adviser on human rights, declined to comment on the matter.
No one from UNHCR or Human Rights Watch could be reached for comment Monday.