Cablegate: Montagnard Demonstration at Unhcr Sites Ends

DE RUEHPF #0590/01 2041150
P 221150Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Some 250 Montagnard individuals
demonstrated outside of two UNHCR sites in Phnom Penh on
Friday, July 18, shouting "Freedom!" and expressing concerns
over conditions in Vietnam and complaints about the living
conditions at the UNHCR sites. The demonstration took place
minutes after the departure of 26 Montagnard individuals who
were determined by UNHCR not to be refugees and were being
deported back to Vietnam. The demonstration was said to be
sparked partly by the beating of one Montagnard person who
was among those repatriated. People claiming to be witnesses
said the police beat the escapee after he had escaped the
UNHCR site the previous night but police reported that a
group of civilians beat him up because they thought he was a
thief. Emboff noted restraint shown by armed, uniformed and
plainclothes police during the demonstration lasting longer
than two hours. The tense standoff ended peacefully with the
demonstrators agreeing to return inside the sites after UNHCR
told them they would accept their complaints on an individual
basis when they had calmed down. UNHCR Cambodia Country
Director predicted more demonstrations in the coming months
assuming the UNHCR continues to recognize fewer Montagnard
individuals as refugees, and as more persons are returned to
Vietnam. End Summary.

Montagnard Demonstration at UNHCR Sites

2. (SBU) On July 18, approximately 250 Montagnard women and
men, including elderly persons, and some with children and
babies, demonstrated outside of two adjacent UNHCR sites in
Phnom Penh shouting "Freedom!" The demonstration started
shortly after the departure of 26 Montagnards who were
deported because they had been determined by UNHCR not to be
refugees. (Note: The 26 persons deported arrived after May
1, 2007, the cut off date for arrivals to UNHCR to be
reviewed for U.S. resettlement even after they have been
rejected refugee status by the UNHCR.) The demonstrators
complained about conditions at the UNHCR sites, inability to
move around freely in Cambodia, and conditions in Vietnam.
The demonstration started at the UNHCR's "Site 1" which
houses 127 individuals, 103 of whom have been recognized as
refugees. During the deportation proceeding, Emboff heard
individuals shouting and making banging noises from within
Site 1. After the bus of 26 deported persons departed,
demonstrators exited Site 1 into the street and opened the
entrance gate of Site 2, from which the deported Montagnards
had departed. Some Montagnard persons from Site 2 joined the

HRW, Journalists, SRP Parliamentarian Monitor; Few Others
--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (SBU) Emboff reported that Human Rights Watch Senior
Researcher Sara Colm (Amcit) and SRP Parliamentarian Son
Chhay arrived separately about 30 minutes into the
demonstration -- Colm was taking photos -- and a few
journalists who arrived were allowed inside the police lines
later. At that point, about two to three police officers had
lined up on either side of the block. Ministry of Interior
Internal Security Department Deputy Director Sovann, who
typically attends Montagnard deportation proceedings, tried
to talk with the demonstrators after about an hour and a
half, explaining that they had been allowed to demonstrate
without interference and that their message had been heard by
the small audience that was on site. However, Sovann also
explained that it was time for the crowd to return inside the
sites. Police in riot gear arrived on the scene a few
minutes later, standing at one end of the street.
Demonstrators -- now a group of about 100 persons or less,
but still with women and children among them -- continued
their chanting on the street despite Sovann's request.

UNHCR: Law and Order is RGC Responsibility

4. (SBU) Ministry of Interior Deputy Director Sovann asked
UNHCR Protection Officer Toshi Kawauchi, who was on site
during the demonstration, to try to convince the
demonstrators to end their protest. Kawauchi initially
refused (Note: The UNHCR Cambodia Country Director told
Emboff that UNHCR does not negotiate with demonstrators. End
Note.) but finally agreed after one of the plainclothes
police officers asked him to sign a document that said the
UNHCR had refused to talk to the demonstrators. Emboff noted
that police representatives had already consulted with UNHCR
several times as to whether they could use force to end the

PHNOM PENH 00000590 002 OF 003

demonstration. Kawauchi told them that UNHCR was against any
disproportionate use of force but that this was an issue of
Cambodian law and order, and that enforcement of the law is
the responsibility of the Cambodian government.

UNHCR Convinces Demonstrators to End Protest

5. (SBU) Kawauchi talked to the demonstrators for about 30
minutes before the demonstrators agreed to go back inside.
He told them that UNHCR was willing to hear their concerns
and demands on a one-on-one basis and that they are protected
by UNHCR and the RGC while they are inside of the sites. For
those who have been rejected refugee status by UNHCR,
Kawauchi told them that they are subject to Cambodian
immigration and other laws while outside of the site. As of
July 22, Kawauchi has a meeting date set with one of the
demonstration leaders, but said that there have been no other
requests for meetings with UNHCR staff since the

Montagnard Individual Beaten Before Demonstration
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) The demonstration may have been precipitated by the
beating of a Montagnard who had been determined by the UNHCR
not to be a refugee and who was among those deported on July
18. The individual ran away from the site the night before
the deportation and was reportedly seen by police hiring a
motorcycle taxi and trying to flee. Police said that they
yelled to bystanders to catch him and that the bystanders
thought he was a thief and beat him up; when the police
arrived they saved him from further beating. However,
persons claiming to be witnesses told UNHCR that one of the
police officers beat him up. One UNHCR staff who works at
the sites said the beaten person had visible bruises on his
face, and said that another person who claimed to witness the
beating said the police also beat the man's body. UNHCR
Cambodia Country Director Thamrongsak Meechubot stated during
a July 22 meeting that he believed that there were no
witnesses to the beating and that they do not know which
version to believe. He also said that once a Montagnard
individual who has been rejected refugee status leaves the
sites, he is subject to Cambodian laws. UNHCR Phnom Penh has
decided the situation was one of law and order for which the
Cambodian government has responsibility and stated that they
do not plan to take further action regarding the beating.
(Comment: Embassy is not satisfied with this approach and
will discuss further with UNHCR.)

Decreasing Refugee Recognition Rate, Increasing Frustration
--------------------------------------------- -----

7. (SBU) UNHCR believes the demonstration can be attributed
to growing frustration among Montagnard individuals at the
sites because of a decline in the number of persons
recognized as refugees, and an increase in deportations to
Vietnam. Meechubot reported that about 400 Montagnard
individuals have been returned to Vietnam in 2008 --
approximately 200 voluntary departures and 200 deportations.
After the July 18 deportation, and a concurrent voluntary
repatriation of five individuals, there are now 447
Montagnard individuals who are housed at the three UNHCR
sites in Phnom Penh. Of those, 114 persons are recognized as
refugees; 199 are being processed by UNHCR; and 134 have been
"finally rejected" or determined not to be refugees by UNHCR.
According to the Overseas Processing Entity in Bangkok, 70
persons are currently either a) under review for U.S.
resettlement, or b) have been rejected by the DHS for U.S.
resettlement but are still within a 90-day period to file a
request for review of the negative DHS decision.

UNHCR Phnom Penh Sites Meet Standards

8. (SBU) Regarding demonstrators' complaints about
conditions at the UNHCR sites, Emboff visited the three sites
during 2008 and found crowded but relatively clean facilities
with potable water, sufficient food rations, and access to a
medical service provider. Meechubot confirmed that the sites
meet UNHCR standards.


8. (SBU) During a July 22 meeting, UNHCR Cambodia Country

PHNOM PENH 00000590 003 OF 003

Director Meechubot predicted that we will see more
demonstrations by Montagnards at the UNHCR sites in the
coming months and we concur with this prediction. We are
pleased at the restraint shown by the Cambodian police during
the demonstration, given the demonstration took place in
contravention to Cambodia's demonstration law which states
that demonstrators must inform officials of their protest
plans in advance. However, UNHCR Protection Officer Toshi
Kawauchi confided to Emboff that he worried the police may
not show such restraint if there is another protest. While
the UNHCR mandate is to protect persons seeking refugee
status, Kawauchi stated that they do not have a
responsibility to physically protect individuals. He
reiterated Meechubot's statement that UNHCR protection does
not extend to Montagnard individuals who are determined not
to be refugees if they are outside of the sites, and are
subject to Cambodia's law enforcement if they break Cambodian

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