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Plight Of Montagnard Refugees

Nine ethnic Montagnards returned recently to Vietnam from Cambodia. Under an agreement among Vietnam, Cambodia, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Montagnards in Cambodia who are found not to be refugees, or who choose not to resettle in a third country, are supposed to be allowed to return to their homes in the Central Highlands without prosecution or persecution by Vietnamese authorities.

"I want to thank the U-N for the food and shelter you provided, but now I need to return," one refugee told a Reuters news reporter. "I don't know what will happen to me", he said, "but I am willing to find out because I miss my wife and children so much".

The nine returnees are among forty-three Montagnards who have agreed to leave Cambodia and return to their homes in Vietnam. They are among thousands of Montagnards who have fled repression by Vietnamese authorities since January 2001. Reports by Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations document beatings, arrests, land confiscations, and church closings suffered by the Montagnards at the hands of the Vietnamese government.

Many Montagnards have fled to Cambodia in the mistaken belief that the United Nations could help them get back land confiscated by the Vietnamese government. "I am disappointed the U-N cannot get my land back and I am nervous," said one returning refugee. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marie Huhtala says the Montagnards "have put themselves in a very unusual situation":

"They seem to think by leaving their own country and going into a second country, Cambodia, that they can somehow prevail on the international community to redress the problems they have back home in Vietnam. . . .Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way."

Ms. Huhtala says the agreement among Cambodia, Vietnam, and the U-N should encourage the Montagnards to return to their homes. But once the Montagnards are repatriated to Vietnam, their rights will need to be protected.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Huhtala says the U.S. is in continued dialogue with the government of Vietnam on this subject. She says the U.S. sends its diplomatic officers to the Central Highlands on a regular basis. The U.S., says Ms. Huhtala, will follow up any instance of persecution or other problems against the Montagnards once they go back.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.