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UN To Investigate Montagnards in Remote Province

Ethnic Montagnards look from behind the gates of their temporary UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and IOM (International Organization for Migration) administered quarters in Phnom Penh, file photo.

The Cambodian government will allow UN representatives to seek out a group of Montagnards reportedly in hiding in Ratanakkiri province.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng gave the green light for UN offices of human rights and refugees to look into the case, where at least 13 Montagnards are said to have crossed from Vietnam, in an apparent bid to seek asylum.

“The Cambodian authorities, OHCHR and UNHCR have agreed to undertake a joint mission to Ratanakkiri shortly,” Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said.

The dates of the trip have not been confirmed, but the aim will be to seek out the Montagnards and bring them to Phnom Penh, where they can apply for asylum, she said.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said in a statement that Sar Kheng had met with EU Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain last week to discuss the situation and allow the UN to make contact with the Montagnards.

UNHCR has expressed concern for the Montangards, following reports they were being sought by Cambodian authorities for deportation.

Cautain told reporters Wednesday that asylum-seekers should be given safe passage and have their cases heard, after which UN agencies and the government can determine whether they are refugees or labor migrants.