Cambodia: UNHCR dismayed by published comments, closes Ratanakiri office
Following demands by Cambodian authorities, UNHCR over the weekend closed its office in north-eastern Cambodia's Ratanakiri province. The UNHCR presence in Ratanakiri was established in early 2001 to help hundreds of Montagnards who were arriving at the time from the neighbouring Central Highlands of 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 this weekend. We closed our premises at the insistence of the Cambodian government but expect we will still have access to the region in the event of further arrivals. Meanwhile, Montagnards seeking UNHCR's help will be assisted in the capital by our office in Phnom Penh.
UNHCR is dismayed by published comments allegedly made by Cambodian authorities in which our office in Ratanakiri was characterised as unauthorised and which stated we were operating "secretly" in border areas to "lure" Montagnards from Viet Nam. To set the record straight, UNHCR has always operated within our cooperation agreement with Cambodia, within our mandate and within the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention to which Cambodia is a signatory. We have always carried out our work in Cambodia in a spirit of cooperation and transparency, and will continue to do so.
Since the beginning of this year through April 8, a total of 59 Montagnards have approached UNHCR Phnom Penh for help, compared with a total of 38 for all of 2003. Currently, UNHCR in Phnom Penh is providing assistance to 74 Montagnards in the capital.