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Cablegate: Cambodia: Montagnard Update, Response to Ngo

DE RUEHPF #1700/01 2620927
O 190927Z SEP 06





E.O. 12958: N/A


PHNOM PENH 00001700 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) Summary. The Cambodian government (RGC) granted
permission for a joint UNHCR expedition to Mondolkiri
province to rescue Montagnards following approaches from the
Ambassador and A/DCM. Separately, 14 Montagnards arrived
directly at UNHCR's Phnom Penh office from Mondolkiri on
September 15. Claiming to have evidence of payments from
Montagnard activists in the U.S., police arrested a
Vietnamese man (ethnic Khmer Krom) for smuggling Montagnards
from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh by automobile.
Assertions by Montagnard lobbyists that poor interpretation
or Vietnamese agents have conspired to prevent Montagnards
from gaining refugee status do not appear credible. From
January to July of this year, Montagnard arrivals are up
nearly 50% from the same period last year, totaling 170
(minus 30 who later proved to be Cambodians) this year.
Direct arrivals are up over 50%. End Summary.

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Seeking Montagnards in Mondolkiri

2. (SBU) In response to UNHCR's request for USG help in
gaining access to Mondolkiri and during a September 13
courtesy meeting between MFA officials and visiting A/S Maura
Harty, the Ambassador urged the Cambodian government (RGC) to
permit UNHCR to travel to Mondolkiri province to investigate
reports of recent Montagnard arrivals (reftel). MFA
Secretary of State Long Visalo responded to the Ambassador

that the RGC understood its obligations under the 1951
Refugee Convention and cooperated with UNHCR on joint
missions to pick up Montagnards in the provinces. The RGC,
he said, continued to respect the tripartite MOU as a
guideline. The A/DCM followed up the same day with MOI
Secretary of State Prum Sokha, who echoed Long Visalo's

remarks concerning official RGC policy towards the
Montagnards. Sokha, however, noted that implementation
through the ranks of all MOI police officials was uneven. He
acknowledged that the MOI was sometimes slow in responding
to UNHCR requests. He underscored that the Montagnard is a
difficult issue for the Cambodian government, noting
Vietnamese concerns over the separatist agenda of some
Montagnards. Sokha added that given the ethnic similarities
between the Montagnards and Cambodian minority groups in
northeastern Cambodia, the RGC is concerned about the spread
of separatist tendencies across the border. The RGC approved
UNHCR travel to Mondolkiri immediately after these
approaches, but has not yet arranged a date for the travel.
UNHCR announced September 15 that 14 Montagnards who had been
hiding in Mondolkiri arrived directly at its Phnom Penh
office on that date. There are currently 272 Montagnards in
UNHCR's Phnom Penh sites.

Police Arrest Montagnard Smuggler

3. (U) On September 5. Phnom Penh police arrested a
Vietnamese man, Lam Nguyen, an ethnic Khmer Krom, whom they
accused of driving three Montagnards from Ho Chi Minh City in
an automobile. He reportedly admitted to bringing at least
seven Montagnards to UNHCR in Phnom Penh and receiving
thousands of dollars for the service. Police told the press
they had confiscated Western Union money transfer receipts
showing the transfer of funds from Montagnard activists in
the U.S. to pay the suspect to smuggle asylum seekers. UNHCR
said Lam Nguyen applied for asylum as a Montagnard on
Septembers; however, UNHCR determined that he was not a
Montagnard and rejected him.

Comments on NGO Claims

4. (SBU) In a September 11 meeting with PRM A/S Sauerbrey,
Kay Reibold of the Montagnard Development Project and members
of the Montagnard human rights organizations made a number of
assertions regarding UNHCR and the processing of Montagnards.
UNHCR has heard all these allegations in the past from
Montagnard advocacy groups. The following are post's
comments on those assertions relating to UNHCR processing in

-- Claim: Montagnards are not fleeing for economic reasons;
they are fleeing intense persecution. Comment: While this
is probably best answered by posts in Vietnam, UNHCR has
noted that their staff are trained to formulate their lines

PHNOM PENH 00001700 002.2 OF 003

of questioning to look for a claim; doubts are resolved in
the favor of the applicant. In addition, staff are sensitive
to the relatively low levels of education among most
applicants and interpreters word their questions simply, and
in multiple ways. For instance, in assessing police
harassment or possible detention, UNHCR will ask a series of
questions regarding the police, including asking if the
police have visited their residences, requested the applicant
to come by the police station, has the applicant ever seen
the inside of police station, etc. -- and not simply ask one
question regarding whether or not they have been arrested.
There are multiple opportunities to assess claims of

-- Claim: UNHCR does not have qualified interpreters to
interview Montagnards resulting in the denial of refugee
status to bona fide refugees. Comment: Interpretation is
often cumbersome at UNHCR; sometimes interviewers must go
from English to Vietnamese to an ethnic minority language and
back again. Nevertheless, UNHCR has been doing this work
long enough (at least five years) that the process is by now
routine and problems are not insurmountable. There are
sufficient interviews and reviews of applications that the
likelihood of anyone being rejected due to language
interpretation difficulties is exceedingly small. In
addition, UNHCR provides at each site comment boxes (that are
opened by an international staff member, not the local staff)
to review any complaints or pass a message to the
international staff. UNHCR staff add that they routinely
conduct a second look at all rejected applicants, even for
those who have not requested an appeal to ensure they are not
overlooking legitimate claimants.

-- Claim: At least one of the UNHCR staff in Cambodia is
ethnic Vietnamese and an agent of the GVN whose job is to
send people back. Comment: None of the expatriate staff who
have power to make decisions on refugee status determination
is Vietnamese. UNHCR has no reason to keep such a person on
its staff and would immediately dismiss any such person if
UNHCR were aware of him/her. The Montagnard lobbyists have
made this charge in the past, according to UNHCR, which had
asked for specific information so that UNHCR could
investigate; no one provided anything. UNHCR has conducted
objective investigations of staff malfeasance in the past.

-- Claim: The GVN has planted persons among the asylum
seekers to coach them with wrong answers so that UNHCR will
deny them refugee status. Comment: According to UNHCR
staff, the evidence is to the contrary; i.e., Montagnard
lobbyists have attempted to coach the Montagnards so that
they will be able to obtain refugee status. UNHCR noted that
sometimes during an appeal process, a claimant's story would
completely change and be more consistent with an asylum claim
-- thereby leading to the suspicion that person had been
coached to change his/her story. There is sufficient
communication among the Montagnard asylum seekers that a
person coaching wrong answers would be quickly identified by
the group. That said, it is plausible that the GVN has
planted agents among the asylum seekers so that they will be
able to monitor the activities of Montagnard activists in the

Profile of Montagnard Arrivals

5. (U) UNHCR has drafted an analysis of Montagnard arrivals
between January and July of this year. There were 170
arrivals in Cambodia during this period compared to 99 during
the same period last year, although 30 of the arrivals in
2006 were later identified as Khmer nationals. Of the 140
Montagnards, 98 came from Gia Lai, 20 from Dak Lak, 16 from
the new province of Dak Nong and one from Lam Dong. Five
children were born in Phnom Penh. Almost all of the 2006
arrivals sought asylum based on claims of persecution rather
than family reunion.

6. (U) There were 49 direct arrivals in Phnom Penh compared
to 31 in 2005. UNHCR attributed the increase partly to
sometimes lengthy delays in sending joint missions to the
provinces due to slow response time from the RGC. UNHCR
suggested that a contributing factor might be the improved
communication between Montagnards in Vietnam and those in the
U.S. The NGOs Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Jesuit Refugee
Service (JRS) have also been increasingly involved in
escorting direct arrivals to UNHCR. HRW and JRS facilitated

PHNOM PENH 00001700 003.2 OF 003

seven of the nine groups of direct arrivals during this

7. (SBU) UNHCR conducted refugee status determination (RSD)
on 55% of the 140 arrivals by the end of July. Of these, 17%
qualified as refugees, while 38% were rejected, though some
of these had appeals pending. UNHCR found significant
differences among ethnic groups in qualifying as refugees.
Among the Jarai, the largest group of asylum seekers, only 14
of 101 obtained refugee status. Smaller ethnic groups tended
to have stronger claims. UNHCR believed that at least half
of the 20 Ede arriving in 2006 would qualify. Four of the 16
Mnong arrivals have qualified and most of the others appear
to have strong cases. All of the arrivals in recent years
from the smallest ethnic groups (Bahnar, Lach and Koho) have
been screened in. Not surprisingly, UNHCR found that those
who qualified had significantly higher levels of political
and religious activity than those screened out. Almost all
experienced arrest and detention by Vietnamese authorities.
Some were screened in because of repeated contacts with
Montagnards in the U.S. to report on the situation in the
central highlands.

Option 2 and UNHCR/Phnom Penh's Budget

8. (U) UNHCR reports that their Phnom Penh office budget
will undergo a 40 percent reduction in the coming year, and
the office will be forced to reduce its international and
local staffing as a result. The budget cut was part of the
reason UNHCR proposed that the USG do the initial Montagnard
RSD screening rather than UNHCR. Even if the budget were not
a factor, UNHCR finds it difficult to justify housing and
feeding screened out Montagnards who are not recognized
refugees and who should be returned to Vietnam under the
Tripartite MOU.


9. (SBU) UNHCR was not surprised by the allegations; they
had heard them all before and had well-reasoned responses.
Moreover, they stressed that UNHCR is very flexible with
Montagnard applications, understanding well the USG policy
undercurrents. They opined that they note a strain of
desperation in recent criticism of UNHCR by those in the
Montagnard advocacy community. UNHCR attributes this to an
inability on the part of those who have made a career out of
condemning the GVN to come to grips with greater GVN
cooperation on monitoring visits and access to the Central
Highlands by UNHCR and diplomatic missions.

10. (SBU) Comment continued. We remain opposed to the USG
assuming the primary RSD role from UNHCR in processing
Montagnards. Despite assertions that there will be no pull
factor, we believe it's already occurring, with this year's
arrivals already exceeding those in 2004 -- the last year of
significant unrest in the Central Highlands. We sympathize
with UNHCR staff, who feel trapped between a USG policy
favoring Montagnards, and special interest groups in the U.S.
with an agenda directed towards internal Vietnamese politics.
Nevertheless, we do not support changing USG policy in a way
that could be detrimental to our bilateral relationship with
the Cambodian government. We believe that increased
Montagnard arrivals will prove an irritant with the RGC,
although post will continue to impress upon Cambodian
officials the need to adhere to their stated policy vis-a-vis
Montagnards. The RGC is well aware that the numbers of
legitimate refugees have declined significantly since 2004,
fraudulent applications are up, as are NGO-assisted direct
arrivals. End Comment.

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