Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Cambodian authorities arrested and repatriated at least 36 Vietnamese Montagnards, who had mysteriously disappeared on a trip from north-eastern Cambodia to the country's capital Phnom Penh, this according to a human rights group and an eyewitness.
In recent weeks, a number of individuals and families have left Vietnam seeking safety from persecution. In this particular case, a local Cambodian resident was helping the Montagnards.
On 25 February, in the middle of the night, the group was arrested at Kon Mum district in Ratanakiri province, in a joint operation carried out by Cambodian and Vietnamese police. The Cambodian helper, an ethnic Charai, was arrested and sent to Vietnam along with the others.
A Cambodian driver told RFA' s Khmer Service that he dropped them at a Vietnamese police station across the border in Vietnam's Gia Lai province.
Questioned on the matter, Ratanakiri provincial authorities said they knew nothing about any arrests and deportations.
In 2001 and 2004, at least 2,000 Montagnards from the highlands of central Vietnam moved to Cambodia to escape the violence of Vietnamese authorities.
The Communist regime persecutes them because of their Christian faith and for the support they gave US troops during the Vietnam War. It is especially interested in seizing their land.
Most of them obtained political asylum, especially in the United States.
In recent years, the exodus has started again. More and more families have tried to cross the border, to seek shelter in neighbouring Cambodia.
With UN help, some have applied for political asylum, although many are reluctant to contact Cambodian authorities fearing deportation.
In recent weeks, more than 50 Montagnards (including several children) fled into the forests of Cambodia, where they have to face malaria and food shortages.