A joint team of UN and Ministry of Interior officials was barred by local authorities yesterday in Ratanakkiri as they attempted to visit Montagnard Christians who have spent several weeks hiding in the jungle after fleeing Vietnam in search of refugee status.
“Despite a clear instruction by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior HE Sar Kheng to cooperate with the joint team, the local authorities in Ratanakkiri have refused to allow the team to meet with the group or to transport them to the capital,” a statement released by the UN yesterday reads. “This morning, provincial authorities have prevented UN access to the ethnic Jarai villages in the area.”
The group of UNHCR and OHCHR officers appealed to the provincial governor for access after being blocked by RCAF officers in Bakeo district about 8am, said Chhay Thy, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
“The team had been obstructed for an hour in the morning,” Thy told the Post yesterday. “UN officials had contacted the provincial governor to ask for free passage for them to continue their mission, but they were not permitted.”
UN officials have been informed that local police are searching for the group of Montagnards to possibly return them to Vietnam.
Additional reporting by Sean Teehan