Cambodia: UNHCR urges protection for fleeing Montagnards
UNHCR is extremely concerned about reports this week of renewed unrest in Viet Nam's Central Highlands. Although we have no way of confirming the reports, we are very aware of the possibility that some people may try to seek protection in neighbouring Cambodia. As I mentioned on Tuesday, UNHCR was ordered by the Cambodian government to close our office at Ratanakiri, on the Cambodia-Viet Nam border. It has thus become increasingly difficult for us to monitor the situation there. We strongly urge Cambodian authorities to ensure that any Montagnards fleeing the Central Highlands be given access to protection.
For background, at the repeated insistence of the Cambodian authorities, UNHCR last weekend had to close its office in north-eastern Ratanakiri province. Our presence in Ratanakiri was established in early 2001 to help hundreds of Montagnards who were arriving at the time from Viet Nam. In all, some 900 Montagnards passed through Ratanakiri and another camp that was established at Mondulkiri. Both sites were effectively closed in late 2001, but UNHCR had continued to maintain a standby office in Ratanakiri until last weekend. We still expect we will have access to the region in the event of further arrivals. At this stage, however, we have no indication of any newcomers at the border since the reported recent unrest. Meanwhile, Montagnards seeking UNHCR's help are being assisted in the capital by our office in Phnom Penh. There are currently 74 of them there. However, there have been no arrivals in the capital this week.