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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Montagnards taste the Big Smoke

Montagnards taste the Big Smoke

Montagnards.jpg
Montagnards.jpg

Looking

tired but happy, 38 Montagnard asylum seekers, left, landed at Phnom Penh airport

on Wednesday, July 28, after a flight from Ratanakkiri province ended their ordeal,

which dates back to the Easter protests in Vietnam's central highlands.

The men, women and children joined a group of 17 hill-tribe people who arrived two

days earlier. A total of 181 are expected to be transported to the capital and have

their claims for asylum to a third country assessed by the UN High Commissioner for

Refugees (UNHCR).

Wearing new clothes and in seemingly good health they were escorted through the gates

of the domestic terminal. Some smiled, others appeared confused amid the photographers

and reporters waiting by the gate.

Hanoi has branded the Montagnard Foundation, which champions their cause, a terrorist

organization and is seeking to legitimize that claim in the United Nations by banning

the Transnational Radical Party (TRP).

Hanoi argued that the TRP, effectively the foundation's mouthpiece at the UN, was

an active supporter of Kok Ksor, who is President of the Montagnard Foundation and

as far as the Vietnamese government is concerned, a terrorist.

But on Friday, July 23, the UN voted 22 to 20 and rejected Hanoi's bid to suspend

the TRP's consultative status for three years. This status enables the TRP to represent

Montagnards within all working bodies at the UN.

Montagnards - a broad term to describe ethnic-minority hill-tribe people - have fled

Vietnam's central provinces since a crackdown was launched by Hanoi in response to

protests over land rights and religion in April.

UNHCR station officer Cathy Shin said all the Montagnards were expected to be in

Phnom Penh by Saturday and it was too early to speculate about which countries might

offer asylum if their claims are approved.

"They're coming through every day now and everything is going smoothly,"

she said.

In 2002, about 900 Montagnards were resettled in the United States after Washington

granted them citizenship.

The embassy in Phnom Penh has remained tight-lipped about the current batch of asylum

seekers.

"But I can assure you they have been working very hard and monitoring the situation

very closely," one observer with close ties to the embassy said.

- Staffan Lindberg and Luke Hunt

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