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Four Montagnards Now in Hiding in Cambodian Capital

FILE - A group of Montagnards after emerging from a dense forest some 70 km (44 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, in Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakiri, on July 22, 2004.

At least four Montagnards who had been hiding in the jungles of eastern Cambodia, on the border with Vietnam, have made their way to Phnom Penh.

Chhay Thy, human rights coordinator for the group Adhoc in Ratanakiri province, told VOA Khmer that the four are being kept in a secret location.

“They are now in Phnom Penh and hiding at a safe place under the protection of a human rights group," he said.

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.

Rights groups worry that Cambodian authorities in Ratanakiri are rounding up potential asylum seekers and sending them back to Vietnam without due process under international conventions.

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

Interior Minister Sar Kheng told reporters Tuesday that a group is currently being interviewed in Phnom Penh to determine whether they have legitimate asylum bids. If not, he said, they will be deported.

“We have so far received 13 people. They are asylum seekers, so we have to interview them and find sufficient evidence. If we find that they are real refugees, we will send them to a third country and look for a country willing to accept them," he said.

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.