Cambodia: some Vietnamese Montagnards have asked to return home

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Peter Kessler to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A total of 107 Vietnamese Montagnards - part of a group of more than 1,000 who fled to Cambodia over the past year - have expressed a desire to return to their villages in Viet Nam's Central Highlands. UNHCR is making arrangements for staff to visit the homes in Viet Nam of these potential returnees, in accordance with a 21 January agreement between Viet Nam, Cambodia and UNHCR. When the home visits are done, UNHCR will go to Cambodia and inform these people about conditions in their villages if they wish to go ahead with their plans to repatriate with UNHCR.

Two UNHCR staff members visited the Central Highlands last week in areas where religious persecution and land disputes allegedly prompted residents of the Central Highlands to flee into Cambodia. The UNHCR team met with local officials and described the trip as positive. We hope it would set the tone for more substantive home visits that will start shortly.

UNHCR is essentially following repatriation procedures similar to those outlined under the international initiative known as the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) in 1989 for Vietnamese boat people. Under the CPA, some 120,000 Vietnamese marooned for years in camps in first asylum countries in Southeast Asia returned to Viet Nam. It also stopped the Vietnamese exodus.

Some of you have asked about reports from Hanoi of a group of 81 Vietnamese who were said to have fled to Cambodia. We have no information on this although there has been a continuing trickle of arrivals - the biggest group is eight - in Cambodia. We also have no reports of expulsions of Vietnamese from Cambodia in recent days.