Cambodia preventing 13 Vietnamese 'Montagnards' seeking asylum

Cambodia have are preventing indigenous "Montagnard" ethnic minority from seeking asylum and have prevented UN officials from accessing them, fearing for their health.

Cambodia preventing 13 Vietnamese 'Montagnards' seeking asylum

World Bulletin / News Desk

 Local authorities in Cambodia are preventing 13 members of a Vietnamese ethnic minority from going to the capital Phnom Penh to claim asylum as refugees, despite an accord with the government and the United Nations, U.N. agencies said on Friday.

The U.N. refugee agency and U.N. human rights office voiced concerns about the safety and deteriorating health of the 13, who they said have been hiding in the Cambodian jungle for seven weeks, fearing arrest and deportation to Vietnam.

The 13 belong to an indigenous ethnic minority from Vietnam's Central Highlands known as Montagnards, or 'mountain people' in French. Many Montagnards are Protestant Christians who sided with the United States decades ago in the Vietnam War.

Cambodian interior ministry officials and U.N. officials travelled to the northeastern province of Ratanakiri last week for joint talks on the Montagnards' fate.

"It was agreed that if the group indicated they wished to apply for asylum, they would be brought to Phnom Penh to enable them to do so," Adrian Edwards of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told a news briefing in Geneva.

Despite orders from Cambodia's interior minister to cooperate with the joint team, Edwards added, the local authorities in Ratanakiri refused to let the team meet the group or transport them to the capital.

U.N. officials were prevented from accessing the area on Friday and were told that police were searching for the 13 "possibly with a view to returning them to Vietnam", Edwards said.

"It's a sort of complicated and rather disturbing game of cat-and-mouse going on between the Montagnards, who are still hiding, the local authorities and the U.N. and central government team," said U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

"We believe there are substantial grounds for believing that the Montagnards may be in danger of being subjected to human rights violations if they are returned to their country of origin,Vietnam."

Edwards said the UNHCR has not been allowed to assess the asylum claims of the 13, adding: "It is a tragedy that the legacy of the Vietnam War should still be playing itself out in cases like this, almost 40 years on."

"The Vietnam War ended in April 1975, the Montagnards have long had difficult relationships with the authorities in Vietnam, many of them are Protestants but there's also this legacy that some worked with the U.S. military and CIA during the Vietnam War."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Aralık 2014, 16:08