Four of the 36 Jarai Montagnards deported last month have “disappeared” from their village in Vietnam’s central highlands, prompting fears among villagers that they may have been detained by the authorities.
The group of 36 Montagnards was deported on the night of February 24 after attempting to travel from Ratanakkiri to Phnom Penh in order to seek asylum.
Thirteen other Montagnards from Vietnam remain in hiding in the province, and reports from local villagers suggest their condition continues to worsen.
An ethnic Jarai, who has been assisting the Montagnards and requested anonymity, said that he did not know if the four missing Jarais had been detained.
“We contacted our network in Vietnam, and they said that the four have disappeared,” he said.
“We do not know whether they were arrested like they were before. But other people [in the same group] have been summonsed for questioning by the Vietnamese authorities about their attempt to escape to Cambodia,” he added.
A spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached yesterday.
The four Montagnards, all male, were identified as Keupak Hamann, Ro Mos Hann, Sev Kvet and Zar.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that if the Vietnamese had detained the four, it was “their business”, adding that they had been deported as illegal immigrants.
“It’s not only these 36 people,” he said. “We have sent back hundreds or even thousands of illegal Vietnamese people.”
Villagers in Ratanakkiri province yesterday told the Post that the situation for 13 other Montagnards hiding from the authorities, who have deployed armed security forces and dogs in their search for the asylum seekers, was growing worse, as food and water supplies were dwindling.
Wan-Hea Lee, country director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), yesterday said that it had no reliable information about the missing Montagnards.
“The condition of all the Montagnards while in the forests was a concern from the start, and naturally becomes more worrying with the passage of time. A speedy solution is urgently needed,” she added.
In Phnom Penh, the Interior Ministry’s refugee department announced that 13 Montagnards who were escorted to the capital by UN monitors in December had officially been recognised as refugees after they were initially approved earlier this month.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE