UNHCR Mounts Third Hunt for Montagnards

The UN refugee agency will travel near the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province today to search for about 30 Mon­tag­nards, the first of about 90 asylum-seekers believed to be hiding in the province’s thick jungles.

UNHCR officials met with Ra­ta­nak­kiri authorities Monday and re­ceived “full cooperation” in their search, said Chung Ra­vuth, a field officer with the UN High Com­missioner for Re­fu­gees.

This is the UNHCR’s third trip to search for Montagnard asylum-seekers in the past three months, a sign that once-strained relations between the UN agency and the government have im­proved considerably. Though it took weeks of media reports detailing the plight of hungry and sick asylum-seekers before the government allowed the UNHCR to make its first trip to Ratanakkiri in July, subsequent requests to travel to the province have been granted in a timely manner.

On its first two trips, the UNHCR collected 282 Mon­tag­nards and brought them to Phnom Penh to assess their asylum claims. This time, the UNHCR has information that 91 Mon­tagnards are hiding in three se­parate Ratanakkiri locations, Chung Ravuth said.

UNHCR officials plan to travel to O’Yadaw district today, and then to Andong Meas and Lum­phat districts, where other groups are reportedly hiding.

Despite the UNHCR’s presence, Ratanakkiri villagers continue to report that Vietnamese po­lice are searching the jungles so they can arrest and deport Mon­tag­nards, said Pen Bonnar, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator.

Five Montagnards were arrested and deported Saturday near O’Yadaw’s Pok Touch village, Pen Bonnar said.

Hor Ang, Ratanakkiri’s deputy po­lice chief, said he had not heard of the arrests.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Min­ister Sar Kheng was attending a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City with his Vietnamese counterpart Monday to “discuss and co­op­erate” on ridding the border area of “crime and illegal immigration,” said Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Interior Min­is­try.

“We did not talk about the Mon­tagnards” at the meeting, he said.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)

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