Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

At least 14 Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam are continuing to evade authorities in the forests of eastern Cambodia, two days after seven others were forcibly deported.

Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Nguon Koeun said border police arrested the seven and handed them over to Vietnamese authorities on Saturday.

Chhay Thy, Adhoc Human Rights Defender in Ratanakkiri, confirmed the news to VOA's Vietnamese service.

"According to the General Commissariat of National Police, seven Vietnamese Montagnards, including one woman, were arrested on January 25, based on the grounds that they are illegal immigrants," he said.

Thy said the 14 still at large are suffering from cold weather while trying to avoid being detained and deported.

Wan-Hea Lee, country director of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is quoted as saying the seven deported on Saturday were sent back before her office could contact them. Last month, the UNHCR expressed concern that the Montagnards' right to seek asylum would be ignored.

The Montagnards, who claim to be fleeing religious and political persecution in Vietnam, have created political tensions in the past.

In 2000 and 2001, thousands fled to Cambodia. Many were rounded up and returned to Vietnam, although some eventually were given asylum in the U.S. and other Western countries.

Soksreinith Ten contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.