Lumphat district, Ratanakkiri province – Witnesses and a local government official said Wednesday that police are continuing to arrest Montagnards in the midst of operations by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide protection to asylum-seekers who are emerging from hiding in the province.
A UNHCR official said Wednesday that he had received the reports and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected to investigate the matter.
In Sre Teahean village in Lumphat’s Batang commune, several local people on Wednesday reported having witnessed two men, identified as ethnic minority asylum-seekers from Vietnam, being arrested by police in separate locations in the area on Monday evening.
“I heard the police say that they had caught another one already,” said a 45-year-old female resident of Sre Teahean village who said she saw the arrest of one asylum-seeker in front of her home by district police officers.
A 10-year-old girl also said she saw the arrest: “They caught the Jarai in front of my house and another at O’Kan. All of them were men,” she said.
According to a third villager, the two men arrested had been earlier in a group of five people who were spotted cooking in a nearby forest.
Nam Huoth, first deputy chief of Batang commune, also said that arrests took place.
“It is true. District police arrested them and brought them to the province. In total there were five, but three ran away. When the three ran away they dropped their rice and seasoning,” Nam Huoth said.
However, Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun and the province’s police chief, Yoeung Baloung, denied the reports.
“There was no [arrest]. They [witnesses] saw, but my side didn’t see the arrest. How can I say there was, when there wasn’t?” Yoeung Baloung said.
Kham Khoeun, too, said there was no arrests.
Klot Son, Lumphat district governor, said he also knew nothing of the arrests.
Lumphat district officials have no orders to arrest and deport asylum-seekers, Klot Son said, adding that if police have separate orders, he should have been notified.
“If [police] have those orders I should know because I am in charge of everything here,” he said.
The reports have been taken up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative attached to the UNHCR in Ratanakkiri, who is expected to raise the issue with his ministry in Phnom Penh, UNHCR Officer-in-Charge Thamrongsak Meechubot said Wednesday.
“I think we need to verify the information and we want to hear the response,” Meechubot said. Such arrests would “contradict” the spirit of cooperation between UNHCR and the government in providing assistance to Montagnard asylum-seekers, he added.
Though 256 Montagnard asylum-seekers have been placed under UNHCR protection since emerging from the jungle in Ratanakkiri, a senior provincial police officer said earlier this week that Cambodian security forces are still under orders to treat Montagnards as illegal immigrants.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also confirmed reports that a Montagnard asylum-seeker was arrested in O’Yadaw district and deported last week.
While the government is cooperating with UNHCR on the Montagnard issue, it was also the duty of officials to deport Montagnards in order to maintain friendly relations with Vietnam, he said.
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