Repression of Montagnards continues
Appeal court upholds three-year sentence imposed on Nguyen Hong, a Mennonite clergyman defending religious freedom and human rights.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/EDA) – Persecution of predominantly Christian Montagnards, who live in Vietnam's Central Highlands, goes on unabated.

In recent days, Vietnam's Security Minister Lê Hông Anh and Cambodia's Interior Minister Norodom Sirivudh signed an accord "to strengthen information exchange in order to improve bilateral cooperation and maintain security and public order in border regions". The accord cites "hostile forces that tend to sabotage the friendship between the two countries"; a not so veiled reference to the Montagnards.

In recent years in fact, many Montagnard tribes have fled into Cambodia to escape Vietnamese repression.

Cambodian authorities have responded repatriating Montagnards in violation to United Nations Conventions on political refugees.

In January, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees intervened on behalf of the Montagnards that they may leave for a third country or return home, but only 35 of the 700 refugees have opted for repatriation so far.

Last April 6, a court in Gia Lai province tried Rolan Hloe, 37, and Kpui Chonh, 47, for organising the illegal emigration of several Montagnards and sentenced them to seven and five years respectively.

Also in early April, two other Montagnards in Dak Nong province were sentenced to five and two years "for threatening national unity": under Vietnamese law leaving the country illegally is considered a threat to national unity.  

On April 12, the People's Supreme Court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the sentences (three and two years respectively) imposed on two Mennonite leaders whose Church is not officially recognised by the government.

Rev Nguyen Hong Quang, a well-known defender of religious freedom and human rights, and his aide Pham Ngoc Thach were found guilty of "actions against local authorities", i.e. they protested against the illegal arrest of other Mennonites.

Repression by Vietnamese authorities stems from allegations that the Montagnards are 'secessionist". For this reason, Hanoi has been pursing a policy of land expropriation at the expense of the indigenous Montagnards to the benefit of ethnic Vietnamese settlers.

Repression also involves killing. During Holy Week in April 2004, security forces took the lives of ten Montagnards engaged in a peaceful protest in Daklak province.  (LF)