Vietnam's Atrocities Against Montagnards Confirmed

Friday, May 21, 2004

Facts surrounding Easter incident slowly emerge.

Special to Compass Direct

HO CHI MINH CITY, May 21 (Compass) -- In spite of monumental efforts by Vietnam to minimize and cover up their brutal repression of demonstration attempts by the Montagnard ethnic minority this past Easter, consistent information is emerging that confirms atrocities.

During Easter weekend, April 10 and 11, Montagnards in Vietnam’s Central Highlands sought to call attention to the harsh injustices they suffer at the hands of communist authorities and ethnic Vietnamese settlers. However, Vietnamese security forces attacked the demonstrators, causing many deaths, injuries, arrests, and the flight of many more to unknown locations.

Montagnards, who are largely Christian, have long been the victims of severe harassment and persecution at the hands of the Kinh majority. This ill-treatment intensified after previous demonstrations held in 2001. One church leader reported to Compass, “They [state officials] have promised to deliver to us great hardship and pain. 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.”

Reliable sources from Vietnam have produced a list of names, along with birthdates and village addresses, of 11 Ede people in seven Dak Lak provincial villages who were arrested. 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.

Another document, apparently prepared not long after the Easter events, reported the deaths of 205 people in seven other Dak Lak villages. In four of those villages, usually inhabited by a total of 2,200 people, only 12 people remained. The fate and location of the missing is not known; some may have now returned.

The same document reported that over 500 small farm tractors, used in transporting Montagnards from 30 villages to the demonstrations, were completely 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 Easter demonstration. Four of the dead were described as Jarai from Gia Lai Province and the remainder as Ede from Dak Lak.

The MFI claims it has information that another 239 people, as yet unidentified, were also killed. Numbers in the report issued by MFI immediately after Easter weekend 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 explained, “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. 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. 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.

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.

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, health care, jobs, government relief and small loans. Those who do have access to public schools are often driven out of the classroom by the ridicule and abuse of fellow students.

There were several accounts of cruelty to Montagnard children during the post-Easter crackdown. 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.

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.”