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‘Information emerging’ in Vietnam persecution of minorities

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (BP)–In spite of efforts by the Vietnamese government to minimize and cover up the brutal repression of demonstrations by the Montagnard ethnic minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in April, “consistent information is emerging that confirms atrocities,” according to a report by Compass Direct news service.

Montagnards, who are largely Christian, were seeking to call attention to injustices they suffer at the hands of communist authorities and ethnic Vietnamese settlers, but Vietnamese security forces attacked the demonstrators, “causing many deaths, injuries, arrests and the flight of many more to unknown locations,” Compass Direct noted in a May 21 report.

The news service noted that Montagnards “have long been the victims of severe harassment and persecution at the hands of the Kinh majority” -– conditions which intensified after Montagnard demonstrations in 2001.

“They [state officials] have promised to deliver to us great hardship and pain,” one Montagnard church leader told Compass Direct. “They specifically promise us fear and revenge. Day by day the animosity between the races grows. It is virtually impossible to see how this can now be resolved.”

According to Compass Direct, reliable sources from Vietnam have produced a list of names, along with birthdates and village addresses, of 11 people in seven villages in Dak Lak Province who were arrested during the April 10-11 demonstrations this year. Sixty-three others were listed as “killed, badly wounded or known to be in hiding.” The list also covered articles that were confiscated, including small farm tractors, fuel oil, water pumps, gold and cash, Compass Direct reported.

Another document, according to Compass Direct, apparently was prepared shortly after the demonstrations and reported the deaths of 205 people in seven other Dak Lak villages. In four of the villages, usually inhabited by a total of 2,200 people, only 12 people remained, the document stated. The fate and location of the missing is not known; some may have returned to the homes since the document was compiled.

The document also reported that more than 500 small farm tractors, used in transporting Montagnards from 30 villages to the demonstrations, were destroyed.

On May 17, the Montagnard Foundation Inc. (MFI), which Vietnam blames for the unrest, released a 12-page report giving details of the repression. The MFI report named 37 people killed during the demonstrations. Four of the dead were described as residents of Gia Lai Province and the remainder from Dak Lak.

The MFI claims it has information that another 239 people, as yet unidentified, also were killed. Compass Direct noted, “Numbers in the report issued by MFI immediately after the demonstrations appear to have been exaggerated. However, MFI spokesmen believe that information still emerging will confirm their earlier claim that at least 400 people were killed that weekend.”

“The verifying of deaths is a huge challenge,” a respected Vietnam watcher told Compass Direct, “but it is looking more and more certain that the number of confirmed dead will exceed 100.

“Vietnam’s admission of only two deaths is ridiculous,” the observer continued. “However, it will prove very hard to provide forensic or testimonial evidence because Vietnam is engaged in a rapid and thorough cleanup of evidence and is now firmly rejecting calls for independent investigations. Further, authorities are going to extraordinary lengths to prevent news from getting out and to prevent official visitors such as diplomats and journalists from talking freely to people.”

Visits to the region by U.S. diplomats, a Vatican delegation and a team comprised of the Canadian, Norwegian, Swiss and New Zealand ambassadors were “completely controlled by Vietnam officials,” as Compass Direct described it. “A handful of Montagnards were selected to speak with the foreign visitors. However, local sources say they were threatened with severe consequences if they so much as hinted at the truth of what happened.”

The news service also noted, “After each diplomatic visit, Vietnamese state journalists published manufactured quotes saying the diplomats had complimented Vietnam for its enlightened minority policies. In each case, the diplomats took strong public exception to the misrepresentation.”

Compass Direct recounted that Vietnam’s Kinh majority have a long history of racist attitudes towards the Montagnards and other minorities. The minorities are subject to discrimination through the illegal seizure of their lands, along with poor access to education, healthcare, jobs, government relief and small loans. Those who do have access to public schools often are driven out of the classroom by the ridicule and abuse of fellow students, according to the news service.

There were several accounts of cruelty to Montagnard children during the April crackdown, Compass Direct noted. One report stated that a number of third-grade Montagnard schoolgirls were attacked on the road in Buon Poc. One of the girls was stabbed to death, while another was “humiliated” (a euphemism for rape) and then stoned to death. A similar fate befell a schoolgirl in Buon Dha Prong.

Another source reported that those attacking the Montagnards in a certain location killed a number of children first, saying this was a pre-emptive action to stop future demonstrators, Compass Direct reported.

Compass Direct noted that, “Some human rights organizations are concerned that democratic governments seem unwilling to address these atrocities, apparently because they lack forensic ‘proof.’ It appears that Vietnamese authorities have worked hard to prevent such proof from surfacing.”

A Montagnard pastor told Compass, “If all foreign countries incline their ears toward Vietnam and continue to believe its lies, then it is absolutely certain that, bit by bit, the Montagnard people will be totally exterminated.”
Copyright 2004 Compass Direct, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.

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