banlung, Ratanakkiri province – The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was refused permission Tuesday to access the O’Tang and O’Leave areas of Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district, where an estimated 16 Montagnard asylum-seekers are reported to be hiding and short of food, UNHCR staff said.
During a meeting with the UNHCR Tuesday, Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said both remote areas were effectively under the control of Mondolkiri authorities and access to the area would require permission from that province.
Kham Khoeun, however, did give the UNHCR the all-clear to conduct two more operations in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw district on Wednesday and either Thursday or Friday, where new information has emerged of an additional 31 asylum-seekers in hiding. Assistance the Montagnards reportedly hiding in O’Tang and O’Leave may have to wait until next week, UNHCR staff said.
“If we want to go to O’Tang and O’Leave via the Sre Pok river [Kham Khoeun] was quite clear we needed to get the Mondolkiri’s governor’s clearance in order to avoid any repeats of incidents in the past,” said Raymond Alikpala, UNHCR protection officer.
In July, armed RCAF soldiers on the Mondolkiri side of the O’Leave area detained 17 Montagnards being escorted to Lumphat town with local rights group Adhoc. The 17 were released to the UNHCR after two nights in detention.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who cleared the O’Leave operation with the UNHCR on Thursday, will assist the refugee agency in gaining permission from Mondolkiri province authorities, said Alikpala.
However, Mondolkiri Governor Tor Soeuth said Tuesday he could not allow the UNHCR access to the area.
“It is not possible. I cannot make a decision, only the Ministry of Interior,” Tor Soeuth said.
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