Vietnam’s Central Highlands in Lockdown

Another article about indigenous peoples in Vietnam, indicating that those groups’ treatment is way better in Cambodia.

Vietnam’s Central Highlands in Lockdown

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Vietnam’s Central Highlands remained sealed off Monday by
police and security officials following protests by hundreds of ethnic minority
Christians over Easter weekend.

Scores were arrested and injured when more than a thousand people took to the
streets Saturday in Buon Ma Thuot, the provincial capital of Daklak, in what
was supposed to be peaceful prayer demonstrations against religious repression
and land confiscation. Most of the indigenous mountain tribes are Protestant.

One witness said some protesters converged on the capital driving tractors,
while police said demonstrations drawing 300-400 people each took place at
several spots around the city.

State-controlled media reported Monday that thousands of people, including
ethnic minority groups, celebrated Easter in the Central Highlands provinces of
Daklak, Gia Lai and Kon Tum. There was no mention of protests.

The area has been closed off to all foreigners, with flights to Buon Ma Thuot
canceled since Saturday and roads leading into the town blocked. Over the
weekend, a U.S. Embassy delegation was forced by police to turn back in
neighboring Binh Phuoc province.

Vietnam has blamed “overseas instigation” for triggering the protests, which
are a repeat of mass demonstrations in 2001.

“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,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung
said in a statement.

Police confirmed that dozens of ethnic minority villagers, collectively called
Montagnards, were detained Saturday while scores of people were injured in an
area of Vietnam that has been politically volatile over issues of ethnic
minority rights.

On Monday, police said the situation in the city was “peaceful,” while one Buon
Ma Thuot resident said things had returned to normal following Saturday’s

International human right groups said they received independent reports from
witnesses of violent clashes and multiple arrests.

“We’ve heard there have been many arrests; many more people are going into
hiding,” a representative from New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

On Monday, Nikola Mihajlovic, head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
office in Phnom Penh, said 74 Montagnards have crossed the border and sought
asylum in Cambodia over the past month.

In 2001, similar unprecedented protests took place in the Central Highlands,
triggering a mass exodus into Cambodia. Nearly 1,000 refugees were accepted by
the United States for political asylum. Human rights groups assert that more
than 100 people have been jailed in Vietnam for helping organize those

Government officials have blamed the North Carolina-based Montagnard Foundation
for organizing both demonstrations. The U.S-based organization was founded by
former members of a group of anti-communist Montagnard fighters allied with the
United States during the Vietnam War.

04/12/04 04:59 EDT

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news
report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed
without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active
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