Vietnam Sends More Forces to Central Highlands


2004.04.14
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Vietnam rejects charge of beatings, deaths

Vietnam has sent more security forces to two central Vietnam highland provinces where ethnic minority protests erupted over the weekend, RFA�s Vietnamese service reports.

The additional troops are being billeted with local residents and no pullout date has been given, according to Vietnamese sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said the decision to send more security forces was made by central government officials on Sunday.

Vietnamese Vice Prime Minister Tan Dung was sent to the Central Highlands on Tuesday. The following day, top officials from the two affected provinces met until late in the evening to discuss the situation, the sources said. No details were immediately available.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday rejected accusations that protesters had been beaten to death in Buon Ma Thuot and that some had been shot and thrown into a river.

"This is not the first time Human Rights Watch and the [U.S.-based] Montagnard Foundation have produced such ill-willed fabrications. We therefore categorically reject the wrongful information," spokesman Le Dung said. "I would like to reiterate that all aspects of life in the Central Highlands are normal."

"The Vietnamese state�s policy is to consolidate the national unity and always improve the material and spiritual life of all our people with special care and attention given to those living in mountainous and remote areas, including the Central Highland provinces," he said. "Vietnam's laws guarantee the right to freedoms of religions and beliefs and freedoms of non-religions or beliefs. This is inscribed in the Constitution and respected in reality. The so-called �persecution of Montagnard Protestants� is absolutely nonexistent."

News reports Wednesday cited tighter checkpoint security in both Gia Lai and Daklak provinces. Also Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that, according to wtnesses, many ethnic minority Montagnards were beaten to death in clashes on Sunday with Vietnamese police, though casualty figures are unavailable. But Vietnam�s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Le Dung, denied that anyone had been beaten to death.

Human Rights Watch also reported that the Montagnards who prepared to enter Daklak provincial capital Buon Ma Thuot on Saturday were greeted by fierce opposition from Vietnamese authorities. "Clashes erupted when police used tear gas, electric truncheons, and water cannons to prevent the demonstrators from entering the city, and police arrested dozens of people," it said.

The New York-based group also called on Cambodia to aid Vietnamese Montagnard refugees and stop repatriating them to Vietnam. "Human Rights Watch calls for� Cambodia to honor its obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention and stop forcing back Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia,� it said.

Listen to a report of Human Rights Watch's appeal in Khmer

Cambodian border police told RFA they wouldn't allow anyone to cross the border from Vietnam without proper documentation.

The heightened security in Cambodia follows complaints by the interior ministry that the U.N. refugee agency had been operating secretly along the Vietnamese border to lure Montagnards into the kingdom. The ministry reportedly charged that the agency had secretly transferred 46 Montagnards to the capital over the past two years and granted them refugee status, including 16 in February.

Human Rights Watch said it had received eyewitness reports of protestors being beaten to death on April 10 in clashes with the police and Vietnamese civilians at Phan Chu Trinh road outside Buon Ma Thuot city, as well as unconfirmed reports of police injuries and possibly some deaths.

Since last weekend, dozens, if not hundreds, of Montagnards are missing. Many Montagnards did not return to their villages after the demonstrations, knowing that police were there, ready to make arrests. Others have been arrested and their current whereabouts are unknown. Some may be wounded or dead. The provincial hospital in Dak Lak reported forty injured people on Saturday night.

Montagnards living near Buon Emap in Cu Mgar district, Dak Lak province reported that all of the men in Emap village disappeared the night of April 10. It is not known if they were arrested, or went into hiding.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in Buon Ma Thuot to take part in what was expected to be a peaceful Easter prayer-but the gathering turned into a major demonstration against religious repression and land confiscation.

In a statement, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry blamed "overseas instigation" for the protests. "In recent days, some extremists in some localities in Daklak and Gia Lai provinces-with overseas instigation-have engaged in actions of causing social disorder, even assaulting authorities, destroying public welfare projects and property in some villages," the ministry said. "Local government has taken measures to stabilize the situation. All aspects of life in the above said areas normal."

Human Rights Watch said dozens, if not hundreds, of Montagnards are missing. �We are extremely concerned that so many are missing or being held incommunicado by the police, and about the possibility of torture and treatment,� Human Rights Watch Asia division executive director Brad Adams said in the statement.

Human Rights Watch has called for Vietnam to open the Central Highlands to diplomats and international observers.

In February 2001, Hanoi crushed a major uprising in the highlands over religious and property rights and has since then kept the area under tight control�with diplomats and reporters required to obtain clearance before visiting. A deluge of refugees fled across the border into Cambodia, with nearly 1,000 accepted into the United States as refugees.

The Cambodian government views Montagnard asylum-seekers as illegal migrants. In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the State Department cited "numerous credible reports that groups of Montagnards continued to flee to Cambodia to escape ethnic and religious repression in the Central Highlands. Government officials continued to harass some highland minorities, particularly the Hmong in the northwest provinces and several ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, for practicing their Protestant religion without official approval." #####

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