Eight ethnic minority Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province have been told to sign an agreement pledging not to provide aid to Montagnard asylum seekers or face possible arrest, villagers have said.
The villagers from Kveng village in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district helped to shelter several Montagnards who were hiding in the forest there until they were assured of safe passage to Phnom Penh last month. They are currently being interviewed in the capital as part of their asylum claims.
The police presence in the area has been stepped up following the arrival of five more Montagnard asylum seekers, with police searching the area around another village in the same district.
Yesterday, police armed with pistols and allegedly led by Borkeo district police chief Mao Sun accused villagers in Kveng of harbouring illegal immigrants.
“They accused us of hiding five Vietnamese immigrants. To correct our mistake, they ordered us, along with 48 families, to thumbprint a document promising to not do such things in the future, or else they would arrest us,” Sal Vuth, one of the villagers, said yesterday.
As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Cambodia is obligated to assess asylum seekers’ claims to refugee status without penalty.
The eight villagers refused to immediately sign the document presented by police yesterday and requested help from local rights group Adhoc.
Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said that the police’s actions amounted to “intimidation and a violation of the individuals’ rights”, adding that Cambodia should do more to meet its obligations under the 1951 treaty.
Police chief Mao Sun could not be reached for comment, but the provincial police chief, Nguon Keun, denied there was a policy to pressure villagers into turning their back on future Montagnard asylum seekers.
“We have no policy to do that,” he said.