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(AsiaNews/HRW) – The brutality with which Cambodian police forcibly repatriated Montagnard refugees is at the heart of an appeal made by Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose plea joins a chorus of condemnation against the forced repatriation of scores of Montagnard asylum seekers to their native Vietnam . The Montagnards are a predominantly Christian ethnic minority from Vietnam ’s highlands. In recent years, many of them have sought refugee in Cambodia to escape Hanoi ’s repression. Vietnamese authorities accuse them of secessionism and causing public unrest and have confiscated their lands.

Ninety-four ethnic minority Montagnards were deported last Wednesday after their refugee status claims were rejected. New York-based HRW said that at 6 am dozens of riot police, some armed with assault rifles, entered the facility housing the Montagnards, who sat gripping each others’ arms to avoid being moved. “After the asylum seekers ignored an order to board the buses, the police made no attempt at negotiation. Instead they began to slap, hit and use batons to beat the asylum seekers,” the group said in a statement. “They dragged people out of the facility by their arms, legs and, in several cases, by their hair, and pushed them on to buses. Police beat at least one woman with a baby strapped to her back, and kicked other Montagnards as they were seated.” Police also used electric prods to inflict shock, the group alleged after receiving eyewitness accounts of the incident, which journalists and human rights monitors were barred from viewing.

“There was no excuse for using electric batons or beating unarmed individuals engaged in peaceful civil disobedience,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.