PHNOM PENH�Cambodian officials have sent back four Vietnamese Montagnard refugees who fled an uprising to crack down on religious protests that took place in Vietnam�s Central Highlands during Easter week, RFA reports.
The four Montagnards�including three men and one woman�were sent back to Vietnam on Sunday, according to Sam Sarin, director of the Cambodian human rights organization ADHOC�s Mondolkiri office.
�The four were on their way to escaping capture and arrest by the Vietnamese authorities and entered Cambodia. But unfortunately, they were arrested and deported,� Sam Rainsy Party MP Amad Yahyah told RFA.
Local media say 160 Montagnards fled into Cambodia�s Mondulkiri Province last week but were arrested and deported. But AFP said provincial police chief Reach Samnang denied the reports.
�It is not true at all. They exaggerate the facts, it�s a lie. We don�t hide anything,� Reach Samnang told AFP by telephone.
During Easter week mid-April, thousands of Vietnamese Christian Montagnards protested religious persecution in the Central Highlands. Human Rights Watch reported many Montagnards killed or injured and some missing, but the Vietnamese government denied any fatalities.
Amid the protests in the Central Highlands, Cambodia tightened its borders to prevent the flight of Montagnard refugees across its borders, circumventing a U.N. human rights convention Cambodia signed by which it agreed to allow refugees into its territory.
In February 2001, Hanoi crushed a major uprising in the highlands over religious and property rights and has since then kept the area under tight control-with diplomats and reporters required to obtain clearance before visiting. A deluge of refugees fled across the border into Cambodia, with nearly 1,000 accepted into the United States as refugees.
The Cambodian government views Montagnard asylum-seekers as illegal migrants. In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the State Department cited "numerous credible reports that groups of Montagnards continued to flee to Cambodia to escape ethnic and religious repression in the Central Highlands. Government officials continued to harass some highland minorities, particularly the Hmong in the northwest provinces and several ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, for practicing their Protestant religion without official approval." #####