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UN mission to visit asylum seekers stalls

‘Communication problems’ between gov’t officials blamed

A joint mission consisting of UN and Interior Ministry officials is yet to meet with a group of Montagnard asylum seekers hiding out in the jungles of Ratanakkiri province “due to communication problems” between government officials, the UN rights office said yesterday.

The delegation arrived on Thursday to find the group and bring them to Phnom Penh if they officially ask for asylum. They met with provincial authorities yesterday but made little progress.

“Due to communication problems between the local and national authorities …the officials dispatched to Ratanakkiri were unable to proceed to meet with the Montagnards,” UN rights representative Wan-Hea Lee said in an email.

“We look forward to settling all remaining issues and meeting the Montagnards as soon as possible.”

Immigration Department director-general Sok Phal said that three officials from his department, which oversees the Refugee Office, had joined UN officials to investigate.

According to Chhay Thi, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, the group of 13 Montagnards, a mostly Christian minority, “packed up to wait for the UN as soon as they heard” they had arrived.

But acting governor Ly Vin, who is standing in for governor Thong Savun, who is apparently out of the province, yesterday told the delegation that he could not decide “on the sensitive matter” until Savun returned, Thy said.

When reached yesterday, Savun said he had “not received any orders from the top” to allow the group to meet with the Montagnards, before hanging up.

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