Vietnamese Refugees Get OK to Seek Asylum in Third Country

Montagnards, Now in Cambodia, Have Option for U.S.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, APRIL 8, 2002 ( The right of third-country asylum for about 1,000 of Vietnam´s Montagnards in Cambodia has now been guaranteed, the Compass Direct agency reports.

Vietnam´s Central Highland tribal groups, which are predominately Christian, are collectively known as Montagnards.

A March 31 release from the Xinhua News Agency datelined Hanoi stated, «Vietnam holds that the problem of Vietnam´s Tay Nguyen ethnic minority people, who illegally crossed the border to Cambodia, should be quickly solved in the spirit of humanism, a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.»

The release further quotes the spokesman as saying, «Those who want to return home should be repatriated with the help of Vietnam, Cambodia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and those who want to settle in a third country should be handled properly.» «This release seems to indicate that Hanoi has swallowed a bitter pill and dropped its intransigent opposition to asylum for the Montagnards, especially in the United States,» a Vietnam observer said. «This comes as relief to human-rights observers who had reported troops on the border and feared Vietnam might launch a military snatch action to retrieve the refugees that it called illegal migrants.»

In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Sunday, «Today, the royal government of Cambodia will offer an opportunity for the Vietnamese hill tribe refugees to go and resettle in the United States.»

This statement was the final Cambodian approval of a U.S. offer to grant asylum to the Montagnard refugees.

«This was a neutral decision by our government to fulfill its humanitarian duty in international affairs and end this problem,» Hun Sen said. «Cambodia will close the camps completely and will no longer allow newcomers to resettle in Mondolkiri and Rathanakiri province.»

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