Three dozen Montagnards have mysteriously disappeared after they left a remote province in northeastern Cambodia on Wednesday night to seek help from the United Nations in the country’s capital, a human rights activist and local villagers who were assisting them said.
The 36 Montagnards were part of a larger group of 50 Christian indigenous people from Vietnam’s Central Highlands who have fled to Cambodia and been hiding in the forest of Ratanakiri province, hoping to seek refugee status for alleged political and religious persecution in their homeland.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, told RFA that the 36 Montagnards decided to travel to Phnom Penh by minivan after they had waited too long for United Nations workers to rescue them.
"I appeal to the authorities to help find them, regardless of whether they are immigrants or refugees, and to take appropriate measures according to the law,” he said.
The Montagnards were from three separate groups who are hiding in Ratanakiri’s O’Yadaw and Lumphat districts, Chhay Thy said.
Local villagers who have been proving food and shelter to the three dozen Montagnards helped them plan their trip to Phnom Penh, he said.
He also said there had been no communication with the members of the group since they had left the area, and that a villager who was leading the way for them was missing as well.
One local villager told RFA that the Montagnards’ phones became disconnected after they had reached Lumphat district.
He said he tried to contact the driver, who is a local resident, but could not reach him.
Moeng Sinath, spokesman for the government of Ratanakiri province, said authorities had not arrested the 36 Montagnards, but declined to provide further comment.
U.N. officials, who requested anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media, said the group had not been met in Phnom Penh, according to an article in The Phnom Penh Post.
Adhoc has asked authorities to investigate the disappearances.
Although dozens of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia in recent months, authorities maintain they are not refugees but rather farmers who have entered the country for financial reasons.
So far this month, authorities have arrested and deported nine of them back to Vietnam in what rights groups say is a violation of international law.
Reported by Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.