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UNHCR Searching for Montagnards in Remote Cambodia Province

FILE - A group of Montagnards are seen after they emerged from a dense forest some 70 kilometers northeast of Ban Lung, in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, July 2004.

United Nations officials in Cambodia have met with officials from the remote Ratanakkiri province to discuss the fate of at least 13 Montagnard migrants who are believed to have fled from Vietnam.

Details of the meeting have not been released, but police in the province say they are continuing to look for the group.

Montagnards, many of whom are Protestants, have long claimed persecution in Vietnam for religious reasons and for their aid of U.S. troops during the Vietnam war four decades ago.

The potential asylum seekers have been in hiding in the jungles of Ratanakkiri since October, but so far have eluded efforts of contact or arrest.

Chhay Thy, coordinator for Rattanakiri province for the human rights group Adhoc, said all search efforts have been unsuccessful.

“I came to the area where police are stationed about everywhere where refugees were reported in hiding. But we didn’t see them,” said Chhay Thy.

Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] also are in the province in an effort to make contact with the group.

Earlier this week, human rights groups and the UNHCR expressed “deep concern” over the fate of the Montagnards, saying they are worried their right to seek asylum will be ignored.

Cambodian authorities have denied claims they intend to immediately return them to Vietnam.

Fleeing Montagnards from Vietnam have created political tensions in the past, pitting Cambodia’s U.N. asylum obligations against Vietnamese demands that they be returned.

In 2000 and 2001, thousands of Montagnards fled to Cambodia. Many were rounded up and returned to Vietnam, although some eventually were given asylum in the U.S. and other Western countries.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.