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Cambodian Province Deports 4 Montagnards Back to Vietnam

FILE - Montagnard hill tribesmen walk towards the main road after emerging from dense forest 70 km (43 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, located in Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakiri July 22, 2004.

Cambodian officials in eastern Ratanakiri province have deported four more Montagnards back to Vietnam despite protests from rights groups who say asylum claims were ignored.

Provincial spokesman Moeung Sineat Wednesday told VOA's Khmer service that the four were illegal immigrants found hiding in the jungle and Cambodia has a right to send them back.

“Generally if they entered Cambodia illegally we have to cooperate with Vietnam and send them back,” he said.

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

Chhay Thy, human rights coordinator for the group Adhoc in Ratanakiri province, sharply criticized the deportations.

“Cambodian authorities deported them without doing proper interviews to find out their reasons for escaping. We see that this is a violation of their rights as asylum seekers and no respect [has been given] to the convention on refugees,” said the coordinator.

At least 7 other Montagnards were deported last month after authorities found them hiding in the jungle of the same border province.

At least 13 have been sent to Phnom Penh to determine if they have legitimate asylum bids. Rights groups have said at least four others are in hiding in the Cambodian capital, while more than a dozen are still eluding authorities in remote areas of Ratanakiri province.

Thousands of Montagnards fled to Cambodia in 2001 and 2003, 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.