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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Montagnards finally set to move

Montagnards finally set to move

The Montagnard refugees who have been languishing in two camps in Cambodia's

north-east for the best part of a year look likely to travel to Phnom Penh April

14. A location site has been identified for them in Phnom Penh and preparations

are underway to ready the site for their arrival.

US Ambassador Kent

Wiede-mann said his embassy, the Cambodian government and the UN refugee agency,

UNHCR, were "trying our best" to move this weekend.

"Obviously I can't

guarantee that it will happen [this weekend]," said Wiedemann, "but if not, I

would hope it would take place early next week."

Once the refugees arrive

in Phnom Penh they will be screened by officials from the US State Department

and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A US embassy official said the

screening process to determine resettlement in the US would likely take "several

weeks".

"We expect the great majority will opt to go to the US," he said.

"The US position is that all those who wish to be resettled and don't have a

criminal record can go [to the US]."

The US Embassy also played down a

disagreement doing the rounds on the diplomatic circuit about a purported deal

between the US and the Cambodian government over the fate of this group.

Sources suggested the US had offered to ignore future Cambodian breaches

of the refugee convention, provided the government allowed it to take these

refugees.

The revelation came during a meeting with UNHCR officials and

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on April 4. The minister told UNHCR that at a

previous meeting the US ambassador had given him the impression Cambodia should

exercise its sovereign rights and that the US might not want to take any more

refugees.

UNHCR's regional representative Jahanshah Assadi then

reportedly asked Namhong whether the ambassador had meant Cambodia could close

its borders to future asylum seekers.

"Yes, that is what I understood,"

Namhong reportedly replied.

Wiedemann said there was no truth to the

allegation his government and Cambodia had bargained over the rights of future

asylum seekers.

"The US has always stood up very firmly for the rights to

asylum," Wiedemann replied. "I have gone in to this government countless times

to stand up for that."

He said the principle of first asylum still stood,

adding that what was likely more important was to work with the Vietnamese

government to improve conditions inside that country in order to reduce the

number of asylum seekers.

The refugees currently in the two UNHCR camps

fled the Central Highlands area of Vietnam after an uprising in February 2001.

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