Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Human rights activists in Cambodia denounce the arrest of a Christian Montagnards (pictured) family, who had left the village of origin in Vietnam, and crossed the border to escape persecution by the Communist authorities in Hanoi . The group consists of five people, including two children and an infant. They were detained and arrested by police and military took place last February 1 in the forests of the northeastern province of Ratanakiri, where they had spent more than two weeks in search of shelter. Police handcuffed them and have taken to a secret location. Four other Montagnards were able to escape arrest.
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) activist Chhay Thi confirms the arrest and adds that, so far, there is no news on the fate of the family, or where they are being held. "Their detention - he adds - is a grave violation of human rights and the 1951 Convention on Refugees". He adds that 27 other Montagnards remain hidden in the jungle, to escape a possible arrest.
Last week Adhoc denounced the police of Phnom Penh, for arresting and deporting asylum-seekers without even hearing their story. Conversely, the police say that they are not Montagnards fleeing persecution, but simple peasants who are attempting to emigrate "illegally" to the country. The Cambodian Ministry of Interior spokesman, Khieu Sopheak, is also threatening to sue the Adhoc group claiming they are acting with "political aims".
In 2001 and
2004, at least 2 thousand Montagnards - a Christian minority, native to the
mountainous areas of central Vietnam - migrated to Cambodia to escape the
violence of Hanoi authorities, who confiscated their land and persecute them
because of their Christian faith. Most of them got political asylum, with the
United States top of the list for granting visas.
In recent years their exodus has once again become a reality with more and more families trying to cross the border, seeking shelter in neighboring Cambodia. With the help of UN officials, some of them have applied for political asylum, although many are reluctant to contact the authorities in Phnom Penh, for fear of being deported.
In the past few months alone at least 32 the motnagnards have sought shelter in the forests of Cambodia, including three children, and have been forced to fight every day against malaria and lack of food, in order to survive.