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Troops sent to Ratanakkiri border area

Almost 1,000 Cambodian soldiers have been deployed along the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province in an effort to combat crimes including “illegal immigration”, military officials said yesterday.

Lam Thuon, acting police chief in Paknhai commune, where 50 soldiers have been stationed, said that troops began being deployed to the border on Thursday.

“I asked them [the military] why they were being deployed; they said that it is to combat all kinds of crimes and offences happening at the border, or across the border,” he said.

Ratanakkiri military commander Kham Sok confirmed that “nearly 1,000 [troops] have been deployed” but declined to comment further.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the soldiers were likely there to stop timber smugglers and asylum seekers.

Since October, dozens of Montagnards – an indigenous group from Vietnam’s central highlands – have fled to Ratanakkiri citing alleged persecution.

A local villager who has been helping groups of Montagnards said the troops were there to “cut the route” of future arrivals.

Thuon, the police chief, acknowledged that efforts were being made to stop “migrants” from crossing the border.

Wan Hea-Lee, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “while there is nothing inherent in the act of sending troops to a border that contravenes the [Refugee] Convention, the troops should understand that their duties include guaranteeing asylum seekers safe passage to those procedures”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY

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