Vietnam has raised questions over the role of United States officials in recent mass protests which led to widespread bloodshed in the Central Highlands region of the country, RFA reports.

Provincial People's Committee chairman Nguyen Van Lang said he had interviewed two U.S. Embassy officials who arrived in the regional capital of Buon Ma Thuot just before the protests began April 10, calling their presence in the region "a very strange coincidence."

"Behind the unrest, there must be some directing hands and some plans. If there were no plans, why would people post on their Web site April 9 that there would be some unrest?" Lang said. "And if there were no plans, why were there rumors among the people that there would be such delegations going there, and there really were delegations going at that exact time?"

Thousands of ethnic minority Christian villagers known as Montagnards from three provinces poured into the streets on April 10-11 demanding religious freedoms, return of ancestral lands, and the establishment of an independent state.

Human rights groups say hundreds were injured and at least 10 killed during the brutal crackdown by police and pro-government mobs that followed.

Eyewitnesses told the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch that one person was shot in the head and nine others lost their lives after undergoing deadly beatings.

The Vietnamese government acknowledged that the clashes had occurred. According to the state controlled media only 2 persons died: one killed by rock thrown by a protestor and the other by a tractor driven by one of the Montagnards.

Human Rights Watch has called on the international community to insist that the Vietnamese government allow independent observers to enter the region, which has been closed to journalists and other foreign visitors since the clashes.

The two U.S. Embassy officials were forced to turn back by police, who had blocked roads into Buon Ma Thuot, Lang said.

Lang said that one day before the protests, an exiled ethnic minority group based in the United States posted a message on its Web site saying 150,000 people were expected to participate in prayer protests over Easter weekend.

He said villagers were told by protest organizers to march, and that the United States and United Nations would send planes for them to be resettled in another country. He said a UNESCO delegation had also planned to visit the Central Highlands during that time. #####


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