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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hun Sen Defends Closure of UN Refugee Center

Its position to close a UN refugee center in Phnom Penh that had been used to give asylum to Montagnards from Vietnam.

In a Jan. 14 letter addressed to six US congressmen, Prime Minister Hun Sen says Cambodia extended its cooperation beyond a five-year agreement with the UNHCR and Vietnam.

“The [memorandum of understanding] covers only 750 Montagnards for temporary facility at the time of the signing,” Hun Sen says in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by VOA Khmer. “Many more cases have been processed, with up to 932 Montagnards having been given refugee status and resettlement in third countries.”

Hun Sen was responding to concerns raised by the US lawmakers as the refugee center nears its closing date, Feb. 15. Seventy-six Montagnards remain at the center.

In December, the lawmakers, led by House Republican Frank Wolf, of Virginia, expressed concern for the fate of the remaining Montagnards, a group that was an ally of the US in its war with Vietnam.

Cambodia’s ambassador to the US, Hem Heng, said Vietnam presented no reason for concern.

“Vietnam is a peaceful country with a growing economy,” he said. “It has no war. Therefore, there are no refugees. There is no refugee issue. That’s why the government has decided to close the camp.”

However, under it’s UN obligations, the US lawmakers wrote, Cambodia is “prohibited from forcibly expelling or returning refugees to territories where they may face persecution.”

The congressmen cited as an example for concern the forced deportation of 20 Muslim minority Uighurs to China in December 2009 and said they had “ample reason” to believe the Montagnards could face persecution in Vietnam.

In his response, Hun Sen said Montagnards who failed in their refugee attempts and were sent back to Vietnam “have been reintegrated into society without any oppression or persecution.”

A source close to the situation said Saturday only 65 of the remaining 76 Montagnards would be given refugee status. Those who are not granted the status will be returned to Vietnam.

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'Patriots' hire third lawyer to help three Thai suspects

PHNOM PENH : Three of seven Thais arrested for illegal entry into Cambodia have appointed a third Cambodian lawyer hired by the Thai Patriots Network to help fight the charges against them.

The move comes amid speculation that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court might hand down its ruling on their case this coming Tuesday.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he would call a meeting of appropriate agencies today to find ways to help the seven Thais, but he could not confirm the Cambodian court's ruling date because the government was still checking on it.

A leader of the Thai Patriots Network, Veera Somkwamkid; his secretary, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon; and Narumol Chitvarattana, another member of the network, yesterday approved a Cambodian lawyer hired by the network's legal team from Thailand to help represent them.

"They have already signed a consent form to give us permission to appoint one more Cambodian lawyer," said Nataporn Toprayoon, an adviser to the ombudsman and one of the three Thai legal advisers.

The advisers - Mr Nataporn, former Buri Ram senator Karun Saingarm and an academic at Thammasat University. ML Wanwipa Charoonroj - have been in Phnom Penh since Jan 9.

Mr Nataporn said the new lawyer was duty bound to submit all evidence from the Thai legal team to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court but was not allowed by the two other Cambodian lawyers hired by the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh to work with them.

The three suspects asked the Thai legal team to help defend them because they were not confident the embassy-appointed lawyers would be able to obtain enough evidence to help in their trial.

"We are confident that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court will accept our evidence and witnesses to confirm that Mr Veera was not actually arrested in Cambodia," Mr Nataporn said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdee said the Bar Association of Cambodia was unhappy with the Thai Patriots Network's legal team from Thailand becoming involved in the case.

Cambodian law states lawyers must graduate as a barrister-at-law in Cambodia. This is why the network hired a Cambodian lawyer rather than Thais.

Mr Thani also denied confirming reports that the Cambodian court would rule on the seven Thais' fate on Feb 1.

Mr Veera, who is the only one of the seven Thais still being held in Prey Sar prison after his bail was denied by the Appeal Court last Tuesday, insisted on his innocence in talks with a Thai legal team when it visited him yesterday.

Mr Karun quoted Mr Veera as saying he denied the charges made against him. The former senator said Mr Veera, who has been charged with espionage as well as the illegal entry, was in good spirits.

"He asked me to tell the public that he will not accept any ruling by the Cambodian court because he believes that the court has no authority to decide the case. He insisted he was arrested in Thailand," Mr Karun said.
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