MORE MONTAGNARDS REACH UN OFFICE IN CAMBODIA


2004.06.09
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Up to 160 Montagnards still hiding in Cambodian jungle

Montagnard refugees in Rattanakiri Province, Cambodia, June 6, 2004. Faces have been concealed to protect their identities. Up to 160 ethnic minority Montagnard people from Vietnam are believed to be hiding in the dense forests on the border with Cambodia, after fleeing alleged persecution.

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PHNOM PENH�Four more ethnic minority Montagnards fleeing alleged persecution after violent Easter Week protests in Vietnam have arrived in Cambodia over the last week, bringing to 95 the number of Montagnards in U.N. custody there, RFA�s Khmer service reports.

Separately, sources reported that up to 160 Montagnards remain in hiding in Cambodia�s remote jungle, although Cambodian police say they believe only 50 Montagnards are hiding in the forest.

Cambodia views the ethnic minority tribespeople as economic refugees who must be sent back. More than 160 were deported from northeastern Cambodia in April.

The Montagnards, who protested in Vietnam April 10-11 to demand religious freedom, return of ancestral lands, and the establishment of an independent state, suffered hundreds of injuries and at least 10 deaths during a crackdown by police and pro-government mobs, according to witnesses.

Since then, Cambodia has tightened its border security, circumventing its accession to a U.N. human rights convention stating that it will allow refugees onto its territory.

RFA and The Cambodia Daily have obtained exclusive photos from the Easter Week protests that a refugee smuggled into Cambodia when he fled from Vietnam.

An official with the Cambodian Interior Ministry�s Central Office for Security who spoke with RFA on condition of anonymity confirmed Wednesday that the four new Montagnard refugees were brought to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Phnom Penh last Friday, bringing the total from 91 to 95.

Montagnard refugees in Rattanakiri Province, Cambodia, June 6, 2004. Faces have been concealed to protect their identities. Up to 160 ethnic minority Montagnard people from Vietnam are believed to be hiding in the dense forests on the border with Cambodia, after fleeing alleged persecution.

All of those refugees reside in a small camp in the Tuol Kork district of Phnom Penh, where they receive three meals daily and are cared for by a private doctor hired by the UNHCR.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS) met with Cambodian Red Cross officials Wednesday to seek access to help Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in the jungle of northeastern Rattanakiri Province.

"We advised Cambodian Red Cross officials to discuss the matter with the government in order to find ways to assist these vulnerable people with humanitarian aid," IFRCS delegation chief Anthony Spalton told RFA.

Several Montagnards who entered Cambodia in April and May after violent clashes with troops and police in central Vietnam are currently hiding in O Yadao and Andong Meas districts of Rattanakiri Province as well as in Mondulkiri province, some 325 kms northeast of Phnom Penh, sources say. Many reportedly suffer from malaria.

"I wanted to stay in my country, but Vietnamese authorities mistreated me and my people, including women and children," one Montagnard man who arrived in Cambodia on April 30 with 33 others said in an interview . "[Since arriving in Cambodia] we have not had any decent food, and we have been eating leaves and tubers from the jungle. Many of us are sick and have diarrhea and headaches," he said.

The man said that after the 33 reached the Vietnamese-Cambodian border, Vietnamese guards fired on them and they dispersed. Only 11 remain in the group. Whether anyone was killed or injured was unknown.

A woman from another group of 24 Montagnards hiding in Rattanakiri Province told RFA she owned land in Vietnam but was forced to leave because of Vietnamese oppression and mistreatment.

"The Vietnamese would come looking for us and monitor our daily activities for no reason at all. Out of fear, we decided to flee because if we stayed on there would be no peace for us," she said.

Pen Bunna, head of Cambodian human rights organization ADHOC, appealed to the UNHCR for more aid to the Montagnards hiding in the jungle.

But the UNHCR and other rights groups have been barred from the area by Cambodian police checkpoints in key areas of Rattanakiri Province.

"The UNHCR should negotiate with the Royal Government in order to supply humanitarian food aid� We regularly receive reports of new arrivals of Montagnard refugees into Cambodia, but the UNHCR almost always tells us they cannot help unless the Montagnards go to the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh," Pen Bunna said.

The UNHCR last month closed its office in Rattanakiri Province and currently maintains only one office in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh.

The top UNHCR official in Asia, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, accused Cambodia in May of failing in its international treaty obligations in its treatment of the Vietnamese Montagnards.

"I am extremely concerned about the fate of people who attempt to come into this country with the illusion that they will reach safety," Fakhouri told a news conference. "The asylum space in Cambodia for a seeker coming from a neighboring country is extremely restricted, to the point of being rather untenable."

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