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Armed police sweep village in ongoing hunt for asylum seekers

At least five ethnic Jarai Montagnards are thought to be hiding in a forest in Ratanakkiri after fleeing Vietnam

Armed police in Ratanakkiri province were deployed on Thursday night to sweep the area around a village where they believed several Montagnards who had fled Vietnam were hiding.

At least five ethnic Jarai Montagnard asylum seekers are thought to be taking refuge in the forest in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district near Pok Nhay commune’s Lom village.

“The police started patrolling in the forest at night, and you could hear the sounds of their dogs barking,” Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday. “In the morning, the police were still patrolling around the village and were trampling on the villagers’ cassava and cashew plantations,” he added.

The group of Christians from Vietnam arrived several days after a separate group of 13 Montagnards were given safe passage to register their asylum claim in Phnom Penh after spending several weeks in hiding in the jungle.

Police attempted to search a house in Lom village yesterday morning without a warrant but were blocked by villagers. They later returned with the provincial prosecutor and confiscated a camera and mobile phone from the house, which they said had been used to photograph the Montagnards, Adhoc’s Thy said.

The Jarai are an ethnic minority living in parts of eastern Cambodia and Vietnam.

Rumours that Vietnam had offered cash rewards to the local police to find and deport the five Montagnards could not be independently confirmed, and the Vietnamese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Choub Vannareak, O’Yadav district police chief, declined to comment on the police operation, referring questions to the provincial police chief, Ngoun Koeun, who could not be reached.

Sok Phal, director general of the Ministry of Interior’s Immigration Department, said he was unable to comment due to his heavy workload.

A statement from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday said that the UN had met with a representative of the Department for Refugees.

“OHCHR made clear that the same standards must be applied: anyone seeking asylum has the right to apply for it and therefore must not be repatriated before being allowed to do so. The representative of the Refugee Department stated that he would look into the matter,” the statement reads.

But the department’s director, Kem Sarin, denied knowledge of the meeting having taken place. “Our immigration police don’t know the information about other Montagnards, besides the 13 who are now being interviewed,” he said.

Adhoc’s Thy said that he had been contacted by a representative of the US Embassy regarding the latest influx of Montagnard asylum seekers.

A US Embassy spokesman said that the US was “deeply concerned about the protection of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants” in Cambodia.

“We encourage all countries, in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Human Rights, to help find durable, practical solutions for refugees and asylum,” the spokesman said.

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