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Viet Nam: First Montagnards return under agreement with Cambodia

Briefing notes

Viet Nam: First Montagnards return under agreement with Cambodia

11 March 2005

Nine Montagnards returned to Viet Nam today in the first repatriation carried out by UNHCR under an agreement with Viet Nam and Cambodia in January aimed at finding solutions for more than 700 Vietnamese who had fled their country over the past year.

The agreement allows the 716 Montagnards under UNHCR's care in Cambodia to choose if they wish to resettle to a third country or to return to Viet Nam. So far, 297 persons have chosen resettlement and 43 others have decided to return to Viet Nam's Central Highlands from where they fled claiming religious persecution and land disputes.

The first group of Montagnard returnees set out this morning from a refugee centre in Phnom Penh in a convoy that included representatives of UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia for a three-hour trip to the Bavet-Moc Bai bordering crossing. The returnees include a 13-year-old boy and the rest range in age from 21 to 33. All adult men are married and have left behind their wives and children, the main reason for their wish to return.

UNHCR is arranging for the return of a second group of 16 Montagnards, to be followed by another batch of 18.

Under the January accord signed in Hanoi, Viet Nam has given guarantees that the returnees will not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted.