A local rights group is planning to visit an area in Ratanakkiri province where claims emerged for the third time yesterday that corpses, alleged to be Montagnard asylum seekers, have been spotted.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for Cambodian NGO Adhoc, said that he would visit the area near the Vietnamese border to “examine for details” after local villagers yesterday provided the group with photographs purportedly showing part of a corpse buried in a shallow grave.
An ethnic Jarai villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said that he and 12 other villagers from O’Yadav district found the body yesterday while investigating reports from a local fisherman that he had seen eight corpses in the area on March 31.
“We wanted to see with our own eyes, so that no one is accused of just [making it up],” he said.
When they arrived in the area, the villager said the group spotted the freshly dug grave “some 4 kilometres from the border police station”.
The villagers dug away at the alleged grave – where they said “offerings” of flowers and fruit had been laid – and claim to have uncovered a corpse.
Photos that were taken by the group, however, could not be independently verified.
On Monday, a separate group of villagers visited the area and claimed to have found a body, which they believed – because of its proximity to the Vietnamese border – to be a Montagnard.
The latest group said they were too afraid to speak to authorities about the discovery because of threats against those helping the asylum seekers, but said they would lodge reports with rights groups and the UN.
Dozens of Christian Montagnards – a minority group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands – have fled to Cambodia since October, citing religious persecution.
The UN’s refugee agency said yesterday that it was looking into reports of fatalities, by “checking with whatever sources are available”.
But Ngoy Dorn, deputy chief of O’Yadav district police, said his “officers have searched for a few days already, but they have not seen any bodies”.
Dozens of other Montagnards remained in hiding in the province’s forests yesterday, awaiting safe passage to process their claims in Phnom Penh.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the agency is “ready to return to Ratanakkiri at any time, as soon as the government decides to abide by its obligations under the Refugee Convention.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY