Montagnard religious groups say they weren’t involved in attacks on police stations

Vietnamese authorities say more arrests have brought the number of detained suspects to 45.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.06.13
Montagnard religious groups say they weren’t involved in attacks on police stations Police officers escort a suspect arrested in Dak Lak.
Vietnamese State media

UPDATED AT 02:05 am ET on 2023-06-14

Religious and civil organizations representing Vietnam’s Montagnard people said they weren’t involved in armed attacks on two police stations that left nine people dead over the weekend.

Sunday’s attack took place in Dak Lak province in the remote Central Highlands – a region that’s home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples known collectively as Montagnards. 

Two state newspapers, VnExpress and Cong Thuong, published detailed information about the incident, saying that at dawn on Sunday, around 40 people wearing camouflage vests split into two groups to attack the two police stations in the Ea Tieu and Ea Ktur communes. 

Police on Tuesday updated the number of people arrested in the attacks to 45. Two people surrendered to police and 10 others were arrested on Monday night, according to a Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security update.

The ministry used the phrase “the group causing insecurity and disorder at the People’s Committees of Ea Tieu and Ea Ktur communes” to refer to the attackers.

A joint letter issued Monday night by a group of Dak Lak government agencies and organizations strongly condemned the attacks and called on the public “not to post or share related information that has not been verified.” 

It also urged people “to stay vigilant and not ‘listen to, believe in, or follow” reactionary elements and hostile forces who take advantage of the situation to create distortion and entice people to oppose local authorities, causing political security in the area.”

‘Montagnard people are commoners’

The Bangkok-based Montagnard Stands for Justice group said on Facebook that the organization had no connection with the incident and wasn’t affiliated with any groups or individuals assisting in the use of violence.

The organization, whose founders are political refugees in Thailand and the United States, also said they were concerned that any armed uprising would hinder their efforts to advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam.

Frustration in the region has grown after decades of government surveillance, land disputes, economic hardship and crackdowns on unofficial churches. 

Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, the U.S.-based co-founder of the Vietnam Evangelical Church of Christ, told Radio Free Asia that he didn’t think any Montagnards were involved in the attacks. 

“Montagnard people are commoners who live with their religious faith,” he said. “When their religious faith or land is violated, they, of course, will have to voice up. However, I don’t think Montagnard people in Dak Lak province were capable enough to organize such an armed force of 30 to 40 people.”

He said he was able to contact church members in the area where the attacks occurred on Sunday. They expressed confusion and said they didn’t know what was happening, he said.

The executive director of North Carolina-based Dega Central Highlands Organization, Y-Duen Buondap, told RFA that his organization also wasn’t involved in the attacks.

“We don’t have any members involved in these incidents,” he said. “However, we have the information that the Montagnard people have rioted to demand their rights and interests, as they could not bear further suffering. They are suppressed, beaten, arrested and cornered daily.”

State media on Tuesday suggested the motives were mercenary rather than religious or ethnic. Vietnam Television broadcast an interview with one of the alleged gunmen, Chanh Nie, who said the gang's leader ordered him to "shoot everyone he saw" and promised he would "become rich." Two other accused made the same claims.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed.

Updated with comment from alleged gunman.

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