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Montagnard Deportation Sparks Protest

A police attempt to deport 29 Vietnam Montagnards whose refugee applications had been rejected led to a protest outside a UN refugee house in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district Friday morning.

"They were worried that [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] would deport them to Vietnam," Cambodian Center for Human Rights investigator Ing Kong Chit said. "They asked UNHCR not to send them back to their home villages, because they are afraid of oppression."

Three of the deportees initially escaped police attempts to return the Montagnards to Vietnam, though one was caught and returned with 26 others.

Two returned to the refugee house and led a protest of about 50 more Montagnards over the deportation.

Montagnards have been crossing the Cambodian-Vietnamese border at Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces since 2001 seeking refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Those who are not granted refugee protection are returned to Vietnam.

"They [make a claim] to go to third countries, but not to be sent to Vietnam," UNHCR field protection officer Chung Ravuth said. "This is the main topic that they demonstrated over. And then we called them to come inside and start negotiating. We promised them that we would settle the problem."

More than 400 Montagnards are staying in refugee houses across Phnom Penh, Chung Ravuth said.

More than 1,000 refugees have been accepted as refugees and moved to third countries since 2001, most of them by the US, he said.