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Khmer Krom in asylum talks

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62 refugees arrested by Thai police on June 12 say they are holding discussions with UN officials and Thai authorities in order to avoid deportation

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Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Khmer Krom monks at a ceremony on June 4, marking 60 years since the loss of Cambodia's southern territories to Vietnam. 

KHMER Krom detainees languishing in a Thai detention centre since their arrest last week say they have held meetings with officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Thai immigration officials in an attempt to avoid being deported back to Cambodia.

On June 12, Thai authorities arrested 62 Khmer Krom who claim they were seeking political asylum after fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.

"At the moment, UNHCR is interviewing Khmer Krom people who are detained at the Thai immigration centre," said Soeun Savang, 50, one of the detainees captured in the June 12 sweeps.

Originally from Vietnam's Ca Mau province, Soeun Savang took refuge in Takeo before fleeing to Thailand in March 2007, after being accused of fabricating legal documents in an attempt to form a Khmer Krom group in the province.

"I have already received refugee status from UNHCR, and I am looking for a third country that will grant me political asylum. But the Thai authorities don't recognise the UNHCR letter - they still arrested and detained us."

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Krom Human Rights Association, said he would travel to Thailand in July to speak with Thai authorities and UNHCR officials about the detainees.

"We will request that the Thai authorities do not deport these people to Cambodia or Vietnam," he said Sunday.

"If they do, these people will not feel safe. They fled from Kampuchea Krom because of political pressure and human rights violations ... by the Vietnamese authorities."

Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn, who fled to Thailand in April after being briefly released from his Vietnamese house arrest, said he was still awaiting the result of his own refugee application amid the crackdown by Thai immigration officials.

"After a mass arrest of Khmer Kampuchea Krom by Thai police, I am concerned about my security even though I have a grant from UNHCR to stay in Thailand. I am living under Thai law," he told the Post.

Kitty McKinsey, public information officer for UNHCR Asia, could not comment in detail, except to say that the Bangkok office was "closely following up this issue with the Thai government".

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

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