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Ministry backflips on montagnards

An Interior Ministry spokesman yesterday reversed claims he made earlier this week that a group of 10 Montagnards in Phnom Penh trying to apply for asylum were illegal immigrants.

Khieu Sopheak had claimed on Wednesday that the UN Refugee Agency knew the asylum seekers were not “real Montagnards” but yesterday admitted that the government would need to interview them in order to make that determination.

The UN had rejected his claim. “We have to meet them first,” Sopheak said. “If they are Montagnards, they must come and report themselves to authorities, not any organisation … Only the Cambodian authorities can decide if they are Montagnards or illegal.”

The group of 10 are being assisted by NGOs, who have reported that their efforts to file asylum claims with the Interior Ministry’s refugee office have been unsuccessful.

Although 13 Montagnards were recently recognised as refugees, dozens have been deported back to Vietnam without being given access to due process.

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