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Rights Group: Cambodian Police Detain 5 More Montagnard Refugees

FILE -- Montagnard hill tribe members board bus after arriving at Phnom Penh International airport, July 28, 2004.

Cambodian rights workers say police in remote Ratanakiri province have arrested five Montagnard asylum seekers from neighboring Vietnam.

The arrests were made Sunday night in the jungle, where a group of Montagnards has been in hiding.

Chhay Thy, local coordinator for the Phnom Penh-based rights group Adhoc, told VOA Khmer he does not know the current whereabouts of the detainees.

“We see that this arrest was a serious violation of human rights and 1951 convention on refugees," he said.

He added that 27 Montagnards remain in hiding in the forest.

Last week, Adhoc accused police of deporting seven asylum seekers without a proper hearing.

Police officials, however, say they are not arresting Montagnards but are deporting illegal immigrant farmers from Vietnam.

“There is no Montagnards," Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said via translator. "Adhoc rights group will have to clarify this issue, otherwise we will sue [them] for serving political purposes."

The Montagnards, many of whom are Protestant, are indigenous to the highlands of Vietnam, where they have long claimed persecution for their religious beliefs and aid of U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

The ethnic minority group has stirred political tensions in the past. Thousands fled to Cambodia in 2001 and 2001, but many were rounded up and returned to Vietnam, although some eventually were given asylum in the United States and other Western countries.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.