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Provincial Officials Delay UN Search for Montagnards

FILE - A group of Montagnards are seen after they emerged from a dense forest some 70 km (44 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, located in Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakiri, file photo.

Provincial authorities in Ratanakkiri province on the Vietnam border have yet to allow a team of UN workers to actively seek out a group of Montagnards potentially seeking asylum.

UN refugee workers met with provincial officials for more than an hour on Wednesday, but no permission was granted for the UN team to search for the Montagnards.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said provincial authorities are asking for an official letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other documentation, before they say they will allow a search.

But Chhay Thy also said he fears those officials are in fact looking for the Montagnards themselves in an attempt to “deliver them directly to Vietnam” before they can apply for asylum.

Hill tribe minorities in Vietnam have long complained of persecution there, following their support of US troops during the war. The group of 13 Montagnards is reportedly in hiding, but UN teams have so far been unable to reach them.

Ratanakkir Governor Thong Savon declined to comment on Wednesday’s meeting, while Koy Kuong a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he had not yet received any information from the governor on the issue.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the government is not banning the UN from seeking the Montagnards, but wants to search with them “together” to prevent the UN from “abuse of Cambodian law.”

“The UN should cooperate with the immigration department to work this issue,” he said.