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Montagnard concerns: HRW

State-sponsored harassment of Montagnards in Vietnam has increased in recent months, Human Rights Watch said in a report to be released today, raising questions about how Cambodian refugee policy might deal with a new wave of asylum-seekers from the Central Highlands.

“Vietnam’s state media has presented the latest round of arrests, beatings, and intimidation as a response to conflicts between rubber plantation guards and ethnic minority highlanders,” the report states.

Vietnamese authorities have claimed “success” at preventing hundreds of people from fleeing the Central Highlands illegally for Cambodian territory, HRW said. Vietnam has also received hundreds who were repatriated from the Kingdom.

“There is some question as to what’s going to happen if we have another wave of asylum seekers coming to Cambodia,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said yesterday from Bangkok. “Will they be treated fairly?

“This is very, very political for the Vietnamese. They are construing in the Central Highlands that any organised religion outside the control of the government is a threat to national security.”

Last month, the government ordered the closure of a United Nations refugee centre that had housed members of the Vietnamese minority group  temporarily before resettlement to a third country or voluntary repatriation since 2005.

Cambodian government policy is to deal with all asylum seekers under immigration laws and the sub-decree on refugee status, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday.

“Those who come to Cambodia illegally, we treat the same as illegal immigration.”

HRW has said the sub-degree does not meet international standards and grants overly broad authority to the minister of interior to “unilaterally” determine refugee status. Three days after the procedures were adopted, in December 2009, the government forcibly deported 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China.

The government has said there is no persecution against Montagnards in Vietnam.

“Since Vietnam is now at peace and has neither internal conflict not persecution against Montagnards, there is no reason for more Montagnards to seek asylum in Cambodia,” Hun Sen wrote in a January letter to six United States lawmakers.



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