Viet Nam: UNHCR staff assessing conditions in Central Highlands
Two UNHCR staff members are now visiting Viet Nam's Central Highlands to look into conditions for the possible voluntary return of Vietnamese Montagnards now in Cambodia. This is the first time that Viet Nam has allowed international access to this region since hundreds of Montagnards went into Cambodia about a year ago. At the time, there were reports of religious persecution of Christian minorities and land disputes in the area. The two UNHCR staff members, who are based in Hanoi, started their visit on Wednesday in the Dak Mil District of Dak Lak province. They later proceeded to Gungu Commune in Dak Ghenh District. They met with senior provincial authorities, including the chairman of the People's Committee in the province. Our staff say that the authorities have pledged full cooperation with UNHCR and their meetings have so far been positive. They plan to remain in the area until this weekend. We hope this trip will set the tone for more substantive home visits in the Central Highlands shortly in accordance with an agreement reached on 21 January in Phnom Penh in a meeting of representatives of Cambodia, Viet Nam and UNHCR. UNHCR is fielding more staff to the area shortly so we can provide objective information to some 1,000 Montagnards in Cambodia to enable them to decide if they wish to return to their home villages. The procedure that we are following in this mission for the Montagnards is quite similar to the 1989 international initiative, known as the Comprehensive Plan of Action, for the Vietnamese boat people. Under that effort, 120,000 Vietnamese stranded for years in camps in first-asylum countries in Southeast Asia returned home to Viet Nam. It also stemmed the outflow Vietnamese from their country.