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Plea made for Cambodia not to eject hill people

December 2, 2014

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Human rights advocacy groups on Tuesday urged the Cambodian government to allow about a dozen ethnic minority hill people from Vietnam hiding in the jungle to be interviewed about their claims for asylum.

Cambodian media have been reporting that police are hunting in the country’s northeast for 13 hill people — known as Montagnards — with the intention of sending them back to Vietnam.

Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva that their involuntary repatriation without a chance to make a claim for asylum would violate Cambodia’s international obligations.

“The group had indicated that they wish to seek asylum in Cambodia,” Baloch said in an emailed statement, adding that since creating a special refugee office in 2009, “the Cambodian government has been responsible for receiving and adjudicating asylum claims.”

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch made a similar plea, calling for actions to detain and forcibly return the 13 “to stop immediately.”

“There is no hiding the fact that Vietnam has continuously waged a systematic and pervasive campaign of discrimination and persecution against Montagnards that includes arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture, and conviction to long prison terms on trumped up charges in kangaroo courts,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the group’s Asia Division, said in an e-mailed statement.

Thousands of Montagnards fled to Cambodia after 2001, when Vietnam’s communist government cracked down on protests against land confiscation and restrictions on religious freedom. Many resettled in the United States and others returned home, with all cases cleared by 2011.

Vietnam’s government generally distrusts the Montagnards, many of whom sided with the U.S. during the Vietnam War and attend Protestant churches not recognized by the government.

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