Cambodia To Send Back Vietnamese If Persecution Unproven

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP)--Twenty-four ethnic minority Vietnamese who sneaked into Cambodia will be sent back if it cannot be proven that they fled political persecution, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

The ministry's chief spokesman, Gen. Sok Phal, said the 24 will be charged with illegal entry or with being members of an illegal armed group and returned to Vietnam if no proof emerges documenting political links.

"But if it is proven that they are members of a political movement, then we will handle the matter in another way," Sok Phal said. He refused to elaborate, saying superiors would decide the next course of action if political ties are found.

The group was arrested on two separate days earlier this month in the eastern province of Mondulkiri, which borders Vietnam's Central Highlands area where security forces recently crushed a rare unrest by the mainly Christian hill tribe minorities.

The tribes people were protesting against government restrictions on the practice of their Protestant religion and long-standing land grievances.

In a statement Friday, Amnesty International expressed concern that the 24 people may be "forcibly returned to Vietnam, where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations."

It also urged Cambodian authorities to ensure that the 24 Vietnamese are allowed to seek asylum.