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Thirty-Two Montagnards Quietly Deported

Police deported 32 Montagnards to Vietnam without incident Friday, following a protest at a similar deportation two weeks ago.

The 32 Montagnards, who had been denied refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, were quietly ushered onto a bus at a house in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district in the early morning Friday. The bus left the refugee compound as the sun rose.

Friday's operation was conducted without protest, following a street demonstration by Montagnards two weeks ago. During that deportation, armed intervention police were called in before negotiations with the protesters allowed the operation to continue.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the deportation was the result of a decision by UNHCR and Cambodian police, who found that the Mongtagnards did not qualify as refugees but were nevertheless seeking repatriation in a third country.

"They have no rights as refugees, so we have to carry out the immigration law of Cambodia," Khieu Sopheak said. "They must be deported to their country, Vietnam."

The policy of the Vietnam government is to allow the Montagnards to return to their homes and work and make business "as usual," Vietanm Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said Friday.

The Montagnards remained simple people, he said, as they had been when they came to Cambodia.

"They will not be accused of doing something, or mistreated by Vietnamese authorities," he said.

A US Embassy spokesman said Friday the US continues to monitor the security and protection of the Montagnards.

"Embassy officials observe repatriations from the UNHCR sites to ensure that the departures are conducted in accordance with UNHCR and Cambodian procedures," the spokesman, John Johnson, said in an e-mail.

US State Department missions in Vietnam have "determined that many Montagnards making the dangerous cross-border journey to Cambodia are doing so motivated by economic factors, rather than fear of persecution," Johnson said.