Action Alert and News Bulletins
Vietnam's Montagnard Refugees in Cambodia

Most Recent Entry
Rev. Y'Hin Nie's address to the Congress of the USA, 9 May, 2003
(Link will open a new browser window so you don't lose your place here)


of Actions and Events in 2002

1.  UNHCR press release about the repatriation of Montagnards from Cambodia back to Vietnam.
2.  Copy of the REPATRIATION AGREEMENT as signed by UNHCR, Cambodia, Vietnam
3. HRW and Amnesty International react to the Repatriation Agreement
4. Washington Times article by Michael Benge "Terrifying abuses in Vietnam"
5. Washington Times article by Greg Stock "Vietnam's human rights scandal"
6. When even the staged "warm-fuzzy" shows go bad -- 20 Feb. -- TELLING
7. US Wants Vietnam Refugees to Return -- 22 Feb.
8. Cambodian police use batons in UN camp -- 23 Feb.
9. Cambodia deports 63 hilltribe asylum seekers -- 2 March
10. U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report -- Vietnam -- 4 March
11. Testimony to the US House Subcommittee on Human Rights -- 6 March -- HEAVY
12. Vietnam accuses UN of "smuggling" refugees -- 7 March
13. SRV accuses US Vice President Cheney of "VIOLATING INTERNATIONAL LAW" -- 14 March
14. Cambodia deports 35 more hill people to Vietnam -- 16 March (relative to item #9)
15. Over 1000 Montagnard Refugees ask for Urgent Asylum -- 18 March
16. Hanoi says 27 more Montagnards back from Cambodia -- 20 March
17. Vietnam invades Cambodian refugee camp -- 22 March
18. Montagnard resettlement to the USA -- 26 March
19. US State Department official statement on Montagnard resettlement to the USA -- 26 March
20. Cambodia gives green light to US resettlement of refugees -- 31 March
21. Creeping genocide in Asia -- International Commission of Jurists -- 7 April

CONTINUED on GreenBeret.Net -- news/articles after 7 April (opens a new browser window)

Repression of Montagnards -- Human Rights Watch report, April, 2002  Extensive

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Agreement reached on repatriation of 1,000 Montagnards

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Jan. 22 (UNHCR) – The governments of Viet Nam and Cambodia signed an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to repatriate some 1,000 Montagnards who fled Viet Nam's Central Highlands almost one year ago.

The agreement, signed in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh Monday, gives the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the area where the Montagnards will be returning. Agency officials will visit the area before the actual repatriation takes place and will monitor their progress once they have returned.

The Vietnamese government assured both Cambodian officials and UNHCR that the returning Montagnards will be well treated and not be the subject of reprisals or discriminatory treatment. The Montagnards claimed they fled to Cambodia to escape persecution by the Vietnamese.

"UNHCR is pleased with the agreement, which will finally enable the Montagnards to go home in a safe and dignified manner," Chris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman, told a press briefing in Geneva. 

Story date: 22 Jan 2002
UNHCR News Stories
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Observers' Sidebar Comments: CRITICAL POINTS

1. At best estimate, there are a total of approximately 1,000 Montagnard refugees in Cambodia at present. Paragraph 1 of the above article suggests that UNHCR is " repatriate some 1,000 Montagnards..." That would suggest ALL Montagnard refugees are to be repatriated back to Vietnam. An AFP article dated 21 Jan, 2002, and published on the UNHCR web site states in its opening paragraph: "The United Nations, Cambodia and Vietnam Monday agreed that about 1,000 Vietnamese asylum seekers who have fled into Cambodia should be voluntarily repatriated." [my emphasis]. Which is it? Does UNHCR presume that 100% of the 1,000 Montagnard refugees in Cambodia will choose to repatriate under the terms of this new agreement, or has the "voluntarily repatriated" notion been amended to "forcibly repatriated?" It would surely be a moot point to ponder the difference between "forcibly repatriated" and "deported."

2. Are ALL repatriation localities and individuals to be monitored by UNHCR?

3. Vietnam does not have a good track record for treatment of Montagnard returnees from Cambodian refugee camps, even for very recent events. Quotes from Human Rights Watch's Joe Saunders in a Kyodo news article dated 15 January, 2002, as it appears on the UNHCR web site:

"On Dec. 28, authorities in Mondulkiri deported 167 Montagnards, but some disappeared after they reentered Vietnam. Some women in the group have been returned to their villages, but many of the men are still missing, according to UNHCR sources."

"Since protests in February 2001, human rights violations against Montagnards have included the destruction and closure of ethnic minority churches, bans on public gatherings, restrictions on travel, pressure on Christians to abandon their religion under the threat of legal action or imprisonment, and arrests and mistreatment of returnees from Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said."
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The Report of the Second Tripartite Meeting on Vietnamese "Montagnards" in Cambodia (Phnom Penh, 21 January 2002)

1. Introduction

A second tripartite meeting was convened between Cambodia, Vietnam and UNHCR in Phnom Penh on 21 January 2002 in order to further explore and discuss practical modalities in regard to the early resolution of the situation of the Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia. The meeting followed a series of earlier consultations amongst the parties, including the first tripartite meeting held in Hanoi on 26-27 July 2001. A summary of the discussions and the agreements reached, as endorsed by the three parties, is provided below.

2. Preparations and Counseling for Return

Summary of the discussion: The importance of the provision of proper counseling to the Montagnards as an incentive for their safe and dignified return to Vietnam was endorsed by the participants. The misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the situation in the central highlands rendered this task even more compelling. It was recognized that, in light of the foregoing, it was necessary for UNHCR to obtain - and share with the Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia - factual, credible and current information concerning the situation in their areas of origin.


(i) The Vietnamese delegation assured the Meeting that all returnees would be well received and not subjected to punitive and/or discriminatory treatment upon return for reasons relating to their departure.

(ii)    UNHCR requested authorization to visit the families / places of origin of the Montagnards. Noting its understanding for UNHCR's role in regard to this matter, the Vietnamese delegation agreed to a number of such visits by UNHCR. It was understood, however, that UNHCR could not, for practical reasons, visit all homes as part of its pre-return work but would nonetheless conduct home visits in an effective and credible manner.

(iii)   It was agreed that the pre-return home visits could, in principle, begin immediately, concentrating initially on areas from where the majority of the Montagnards originate, notably in the Dak Mil District of Dak Lak Province. Home visits would commence upon the submission by UNHCR of such requests to the Vietnamese authorities and the latter's approval.

(iv)    The Meeting agreed on the necessity for the involvement of the relevant Cambodian authorities in the counseling process.

3. Procedures for Return

Summary of the discussion: The Meeting examined the logistical arrangements for the return of the Montagnards. It was noted that all three parties had a role to play in this regard. There was consensus on the practical modalities of return and the need for a simplified procedure to facilitate speedy and safe returns.

Conclusion: The Meeting agreed on the following procedures for return:

Prior to return:

(i) The name lists, composed of comprehensive bio-data on the repatriants, including full name, date / place of birth, address in Vietnam, details on relatives in Vietnam, number of family members and their marital status, etc., as well as their photographs, would be provided to the Vietnamese authorities by UNHCR through the UNHCR Office in Hanoi. The return movements would commence with manageable numbers.

(ii) Vietnam would clear the lists within two weeks of receiving such requests from UNHCR, and would forward the clearance to UNHCR, with written information concerning the date of departure, the route and border crossing points to be employed. The clearance would be provided not less than two weeks prior to the date of departure. This clearance would also act in lieu of travel documents for the Montagnards.

(iii) UNHCR would share the necessary information/ clearance with the relevant central and local Cambodian authorities.

(iv) Following the Cambodian Government's concurrence with the route and date of departure, the concern Montagnards would be informed of the date of departure.

Return movement:

(i) The return movement would be undertaken in UNHCR vehicles.

(ii) UNHCR staff would accompany returnees through any rest/ transit locations to places of final destination.

(iii)   The Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities would ensure security during the movement on their respective territories and undertake to expedite all relevant customs / immigration clearances for the returnees, as well as for the personnel and vehicles involved.

(iv)  UNHCR would cover the relevant and appropriate costs incurred in relation to the return movement, including reasonable cots incurred by got officials of both countries in this connection.


(i) UNHCR would undertake follow-up visits to the returnees. The UNHCR office in Hanoi would co-ordinate such visits with the relevant Vietnamese authorities.

4. Reintegration Assistance to Returnees and their Communities

Summary of the discussion: Assistance to the returnees and to their communities was also discussed by the participants. The Vietnamese delegation emphasized that this was essentially the responsibility of the Vietnamese government. It provided information on measures that are currently being undertaken in order to improve the living standards of the Montagnards living in remote areas. It also underlined the priority being accorded to these measures by the Government. However, the delegation agreed that UNHCR could provide reintegration assistance in accordance with its habitual practice in regard to returnees, with the advise and support of the Vietnamese Government. It was also noted that donor support would be obtained if there was a proper framework for return and reintegration, and if the operation was implemented with all the relevant safeguards.


(i) The Meeting agreed that UNHCR would provide a reintegration package to the returnees consisting of a month's supply of (non-fresh) food, similar to that provided to them in their present sites, and pocket money in the amount of US$ 30 per adult and US$ 15 per child (15 years and younger).

(ii)  UNHCR could also provide assistance to the communities in the form of, for example, equipment and supplies to local hospitals and road repairs, etc., in the areas of return.  This assistance would be assessed by UNHCR during its home visits and in consultation with the local authorities.

5. Concluding Remarks

The Vietnamese and UNHCR delegations expressed their appreciation to the Royal Government of Cambodia for providing the venue for the meeting and for its effective cooperation.  The three delegations agreed to convene a next tripartite meeting by 31 May 2002 in order to review progress achieved with respect to the agreements contained in this Report.

Phnom Penh, 21 January 2002

Signed by:

H.E. Mr. Long Visalo, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia

H.E. Mr. Nguyen Phu Binh, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Jahanshah Assadi, UNHCR Regional Representative for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
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Vietnam/Cambodia: Future of Montagnard Refugees at Risk

(London/New York, January 25, 2002) Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch today expressed concern over plans agreed by the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate repatriation of indigenous Montagnard refugees who have fled from Vietnam to Cambodia during the past year. 

A report of the January 21 meeting in Phnom Penh, signed by all three parties, makes no mention of the fact that any return of refugees to Vietnam must be voluntary and that the right of individuals to continue to seek asylum in Cambodia must be respected. In addition, while Vietnam has now agreed to allow UNHCR to visit its Central Highlands to monitor conditions for return, access appears to be very limited and the Vietnamese authorities must approve each U.N. visit.

"We are concerned that this agreement may send a green light to both the Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities that it is now acceptable to forcibly expel Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia," said Rachael Reilly, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. "There should be no action on repatriation unless there are firm guarantees that any such returns are completely voluntary." 

The two human rights organizations called for any repatriation to be completely voluntary and for UNHCR to have full and unhindered access to the highlands both before and after any repatriation, in order to assure the safety of returnees. 

Since March 2001, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented abuse, imprisonment and beating of dozens of Montagnards deported from Cambodia. One man who returned voluntarily to Vietnam in September 2001, was reportedly interrogated and detained in the provincial prison for a week before being placed under heavy surveillance in his home village. 

"There do not appear to be sufficient safeguards to protect the returnees and their families," said Lars Olsson, Refugee Officer for Amnesty International. "Permission to visit the Central Highlands of Vietnam for UNHCR is not enough - UNHCR must have freedom of movement there, and must fully assess conditions in the area and monitor the safety of any returnees." 

The two rights organizations also expressed concern that new Montagnard arrivals in Cambodia may be denied their basic rights to seek asylum. Cambodia is a state party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and has obligations under that Convention to protect the rights of all who seek asylum within its borders. 

"There will be people from the Central Highlands of Viet Nam for whom going home is not an option. Their right to seek and enjoy asylum, and to have a durable solution to their plight, must be protected," said Lars Olsson. 

Both organizations called on the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments to continue negotiations with the UNHCR to resolve the plight of the Montagnard refugees, keeping in mind UNHCR's mandate at all times to ensure that any repatriations are voluntary, safe and dignified. Alternative solutions must be available to those for whom repatriation to their homeland is not a safe option. 

Montagnard people from Vietnam began crossing the border to Cambodia in early 2001, following unrest in the Central Highlands in February. An initial group of refugees were resettled in the U.S., while others have been housed in two sites in Cambodia, with aid provided by UNHCR. There have been several recorded incidents of forced return of refugees to Vietnam by the Cambodian authorities, most recently in December 2001, when more than 160 people were forced back across the border. 

In July 2001, talks between UNHCR and the two governments broke down when the Vietnamese authorities refused to allow access for the refugee agency to the Central Highlands. While this has now apparently been resolved, the access appears to be limited and the Vietnamese authorities must approve visits. 

The Vietnamese government maintains that the Montagnard refugees are "illegal migrants" who have left the country without permission. Independent human rights monitors, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are officially denied access to Vietnam.
This Article at HRW

In a HANOI (Reuters) article parallel to the above and dated 24 January, 2002:
"Rights Groups Air Doubts on Vietnam Refugee Plan" it is stated:

"On Thursday, U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Ken Wiedemann said Washington would contact UNHCR and the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments to express its worries about the deal."
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Washington Times

Terrifying abuses in Vietnam

"War on terrorism must never be an excuse to persecute minorities,"  according to President Bush  (President speaks out on rights, Washington Times, 10/20/01), yet the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) has been systematically terrorizing one of America's most stalwart allies, the Montagnard people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

After destroying their church buildings, and burning their house-churches (private residences where the Montagnards are forced to hold services), the Vietnamese secret police (Cong An) are systematically forcing Christian Montagnards to drink a mixture of liquor, goat's blood, raw chicken liver and raw pig's intestine, renounce God, and promise not to tell others of Christianity.  If they do not, they are tortured, imprisoned or "disappeared."  This affront is comparable to forcing Muslim or Jewish people to eat raw pork.

Additionally, the Vietnamese communists have been systematically implementing a policy of coerced sterilization of Montagnard women, a fact admitted to by Vietnamese Ambassador to the United Nations, Nguyen Quy Binh, at a conference in Geneva last August.  The sterilizations included use of an outlawed chemical that burns and scars the women's reproductive organs causing irreparable harm.  This policy is in violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defined as including "imposing measures to prevent births within the group."

During the first part of this year, the Montagnards staged a series of peaceful protests over the burning of churches, confiscation of their lands, starvation conditions, and other human rights abuses.  The Vietnamese communists reacted violently, beating, imprisoning, and killing many of the protesters.  Thousands fled to the jungle, many heading for what they thought would be safety in Cambodia.  Of the hundreds imprisoned for the protests, at least 48 have been sentenced in secret trials to long terms in prison -- "kangaroo courts" denounced by human rights groups in the U.S. and Europe.

Hanoi has also carried out acts of international terrorism by crossing into Cambodia to kidnap Montagnards who fled the communist terror and sought refuge there.  A special unit of the communist secret police infiltrated UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) camps in Cambodia in order to intimidate legitimate Montagnard refugees and to influence UNHCR decision making in the camps.

Two members of Cong An unit Luoc Luong 04 have been identified in one camp.  To prove their loyalty to the Vietnamese communists, these two agents each killed three members of families of former freedom fighters who fought for the Americans during the Vietnam War.  Upon their insistence, a UNHCR camp official forced 117 Montagnard Christians and former freedom fighters from one camp into the arms of Cong An and back to Vietnam to face torture, prison or death.  In moribund irony, the Vietnamese communists have labeled these Christians as terrorists.

One refugee family -- Y-Lien Dien, his wife Maria Nam, and five children -- thought they had reached safety in Cambodia and had been given a UNHCR certificate of protection.  In violation of international law, the Vietnamese communists crossed into Cambodia, kidnapped this family, taking them back to their village, Krong Dieng, in Vietnam.  There, the mother and father were tied to posts in the center of the village, severely beaten in front of their children and villagers, left hanging on the poles, and reportedly died.

While a Prisoner of War, I witnessed similar treatment of prisoners who were left tied to the poles for days until they died.  Of the hundreds that have been similarly kidnapped in Cambodia and taken back to Vietnam, many have just "disappeared."

Regardless of these gross and sadistic human rights violations against our former Montagnard allies, Congress and the White House recently rewarded these communist terrorists by approving a new Bilateral Trade Agreement giving the Vietnamese government (SRV) increased access to U.S. markets as well as providing U.S. subsidizes for investment in that terrorist state.

In return, Hanoi made only a token public expression of condolence to the United States for the September 11 tragedy--Black Tuesday, while at the same time, the Vietnamese Communist Party's Official newspaper, The Peoples Army Daily, blamed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on "America imposing its policies and values on the world."

While demanding increased trade, Hanoi has conducted a media blitz covering up its litany of human rights abuses against the Montagnards and other Vietnamese peoples.  SRV President Tran Duc Luong condemned the recently passed Vietnam Human Rights Act, HR 2833 linking improved human rights to increased trade as "brazen interference" in the affairs of Vietnam.  Passed in House by a vote of 410 to 1, this Act is now frozen in the Senate by Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and a long-time advocate for the Vietnamese communist government.  Mr. Kerry seemingly cares more for a government that sponsors terrorism than for our allies who are the victims of terrorism.

Over one-half of the adult male population of the Montagnards was killed fighting side by side with Americans during the Vietnam War. Without the Montagnards' supreme sacrifice, there would be thousands more American names engraved on the somber black granite wall of the Vietnam Memorial.  Many more have died since the end of the war because of Hanoi's terrorist and genocidal policies.  If this is allowed to continue, the Montagnard people and their culture will cease to exist in our lifetime

As the Administration was building a coalition against terrorism, Congress and the White House rewarded the Vietnamese terrorists, while turning our backs on these brave and loyal Montagnard allies.  At this crucial time, this sends absolutely the wrong message to the world and should give our new allies pause to think.
     Michael "Mike" Benge
     Falls Church, VA, USA

Mr. Benge is a senior adviser to the Montagnard Human Rights organization.  He spent 11 years in Vietnam as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and worked closely with the Montagnards during that time.

Webmaster's addendum: Click HERE to read SRV's official, unconvincing, and wholly predictable reaction to Mr. Benge's article, which is also parroted by AFP. In support of Mr. Benge's positions is Human Rights Watch.
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Washington Times, Letter to the Editor 1/23/02

Vietnam's human rights scandal 

Government-controlled newspapers in Vietnam last Thursday condemned Michael D. Benge's Jan. 13 Washington Times Commentary Forum article, "Terrifying abuses in Vietnam." On Saturday, the Embassy of Vietnam issued a news release slandering Mr. Benge by accusing him of carrying out acts of sabotage against Vietnam.

In his article, Mr. Benge brings to light the Vietnamese government's ongoing and systematic abuse of the Montagnard people, who fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. As usual, the Vietnamese government's response distorted or deliberately omitted facts.

For instance, Mr. Benge is a senior adviser to the Montagnard Human Rights Organization, not Human Rights Watch, as the government's newspapers reported. Of course, I'm sure the government was confronted with several dilemmas. First, it is not surprising that it would hesitate to admit that there is a Montagnard Human Rights Organization — or, more important, that Vietnam's human rights record is so abysmal that there are several human rights organizations concerned about the abuses.

Another distortion is the newspapers' contention that the Vietnam Human Rights Act failed to pass the U.S. Senate. In truth, one senator, John Kerry of Massachusetts, is keeping the bill from a vote. In a behind-the-scenes maneuver, Mr. Kerry blocked the bill from coming to the Senate floor, where it surely would pass, as it did overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives.

In its attempt to slander Mr. Benge and cover up the truth of who he is and the abuse of the Montagnards, the Vietnamese embassy failed to mention another important fact: Mr. Benge is an expert witness concerning Vietnamese human rights violations. He was held in a North Vietnamese communist prison, where he was tortured, held in solitary confinement, starved and beaten, from 1968 to 1973. This was in violation of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which Vietnam signed. Mr. Benge also buried fellow prisoners who died of abuse and deliberate neglect at the hands of the North Vietnamese government. Mr. Benge was a noncombatant when he was captured — a civilian working to help the Montagnards and Vietnamese as a member of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the same agency to which Vietnam now has its hand out for assistance.

No one who loves and cares for the Montagnards and the majority of the Vietnamese people wants to stand in the way of normalized trade. However, Americans do expect that in return for that trade, the Vietnamese government will treat all of the people of Vietnam with dignity and respect. The United States can forgive our former enemies; however, the United States will never forget our former allies.

I challenge the Vietnamese ambassador to open the Central Highlands to controlled tours and truly independent public inspections not guided by the communist government. If he accepts this challenge, I — and I'm sure Mr. Benge as well —will gladly provide the names and locations of Montagnards who have been subjected to the government's religious repression and human rights abuses to that independent party in order to verify our claims. Is the Vietnamese government willing to accept this challenge?

     Special projects officer
     Save the Montagnard People Inc.
     Gaithersburg, Md.

Letter currently (1/23/02) online at Washington Times Letters to the Editor ~ followed below by another denunciation as a "fabrication" (re Benge article) by Nguyen Thi Thai Thong, Press attache, Embassy of Vietnam, Washington.

Even staged shows for the world press not going well for SRV

Reuters, Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Tearful minority women defy Vietnamese officials
By David Brunnstrom 

TUOC BIEK, Vietnam (Reuters) - Vietnamese officials hustled journalists out of an ethnic minority hamlet on Tuesday after defiant women said they were worried for their husbands' safety if they were repatriated under a controversial U.N. plan. 

The women from the Gia Rai tribe in the hamlet of Tuoc Biek in Gia Lai province in Vietnam's Central Highlands wept as they told reporters security services kept them under watch and they were forbidden to practice their religion. 

"They follow us and watch us all the time," said Bom, 30, when asked how the authorities treated the women. 

Her husband is among the more than 1,000 people who fled to Cambodia after a crackdown on widespread ethnic protests last year. She said she feared he would be arrested if he returned. 

"If my husband were to come back," she said, "and nothing was to happen to him, then I would want him to come back." 

Groups of women cried as they saw journalists entering the village. They said Communist authorities prevented them from practising a separatist faith they call "Dega" Protestantism. 

"The state doesn't allow it, because it's the Dega religion," said one named H'rinh. 

As the litany of complaints grew, the chairman of the local town People's Committee, Nguyen Than Xuan, intervened: "It's finished, it's finished," he told reporters. "Now please get into your cars." 

He and other government officials then shooed journalists back on to buses saying it was "not safe" to be in the village. The villagers shook hands and embraced reporters as they left.  [Emphasis added by webmaster]


Hanoi has blamed the unrest on agitation by U.S.-based exiles who fought alongside U.S. forces in the Vietnam War and seek an independent hill-tribe state they call "Dega". 

It shut off access to the region for most independent observers for much of the past year and sent in large numbers of soldiers and police to restore order. 

The media visit, only the second since the unrest broke out in February 2001, was arranged with the apparent aim of showing conditions had improved and authorities were sincere in saying no one would be discriminated against if they returned from Cambodia. 

But earlier on Tuesday, Blin, a Gia Rai teenager who spent a month camped in a Cambodian forest last year after leaving his village of Do in Gia Lai told reporters he was beaten up by Vietnamese guards after being caught near the border. 

"They told me I was in a restricted area and they beat me," he said. 

Hanoi agreed to a repatriation plan with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees last month but this has been strongly criticised by the United States and human rights groups for lacking adequate safeguards for returnees. 

UNHCR began the repatriation on Tuesday despite these protests. 

A Cambodian government official said 15 minority people left Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakkiri for Vietnam's Kontum province accompanied by UNHCR staff. 

UNHCR officials said last week that a further 94 of those in camps in Cambodia had volunteered to return.

A Vietnamese Foreign Ministry statement on Tuesday urged UNHCR to press ahead with the agreed plan. 

"Vietnam considers UNHCR needs to be independent in its actions and not allow itself to be manipulated by any outside forces," the statement said.
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Associated Press, Friday, February 22, 2002

US Wants Vietnam Refugees to Return
By Tini Tran
Associated Press Writer

HANOI, Vietnam -- Insisting that the United States is not trying to scuttle the repatriation of Vietnamese hill tribe members from Cambodia, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia said Friday that he wants refugees to return home - but only if they are safe from persecution.

"I stress that our first preference is that refugees be able to go home - as long as it's assured that they not be harmed or persecuted," said Ambassador Kent Wiedemann during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh.

"If the UNHCR makes the judgement that some refugees should not be returned for safety reasons, then we have indicated that the U.S. would be willing to provide resettlement."

Officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday that senior American officials offered last week to resettle in America any of the 1,032 refugees now staying at U.N.-supervised camps in northeastern Cambodia.

More than a thousand ethnic minority group members, called Montagnards, fled from Vietnam's Central Highlands into Cambodia last year, following a government crackdown on protests over land rights and religious persecution.

But Weidemann's offer threatens to aggravate ongoing tensions between Washington and Hanoi over the issue.

Vietnam has accused the United States of attempting to block the repatriation of the Vietnamese hill tribe members in order to blacken Hanoi's reputation.

The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly denounced the "brazen interference" by the U.S. into its internal matters.

The scheduled repatriation of about 100 Montagnards on Saturday was postponed after international human rights groups, along with Weidemann, criticized the plan, saying it failed to provide adequate protection to returnees.

Under a Jan. 21 repatriation agreement signed by the UNHCR, Vietnam and Cambodia, the UNHCR is to make pre- and post-return visits to refugees' villages. The agreement says each visit must be approved by Vietnam, and that it is impractical for the UNHCR to visit each family.

Weidemann said Friday that he is hopeful the agreement will be effective but that U.S. officials will be watching and monitoring very closely to ensure that it works.

"I've stressed many times that we are not seeking political friction with Vietnam over this issue. We don't see this as a political issue; it's a humanitarian issue," he said.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Hanoi, who declined to be identified, said officials here are "not familiar with" Wiedemann's offer.

If some Montagnards request resettlement in the U.S., it will be handled on a case-by-case basis, he said. But, "there is no blanket granting to groups of admission to the U.S. under refugee status," he said.

Despite the resettlement offer, the first group of 15 Montagnards returned Tuesday under UNHCR auspices. Several members of that group told reporters Thursday they were afraid and asked for frequent monitoring by the U.N.

Vietnam has promised not to punish or discriminate against the returnees, whom it calls "illegal migrants." Those interviewed said they had not been mistreated so far, but several said they had been closely watched since their return.

On Thursday, the official English-language daily Vietnam News reported that Cambodia and Vietnam have agreed to speed up the repatriation process during a meeting in Phnom Penh between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Vietnamese deputy prime minister Nguyen Dinh Bin.

Several concrete measures were agreed to in order to complete the repatriation as "soon as possible," though no details were given. Returnees should get home before the coming of the monsoon season, the newspaper reported.

Cambodia's government currently opposes resettling the refugees in the U.S. for fear that it would encourage more Vietnamese to cross the border.

Last year, U.S. officials infuriated Vietnam by granting asylum to 38 Montagnards who had fled to Cambodia. The Montagnards have long been viewed with suspicion by Hanoi because of their Christian faith and former allegiance to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

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 Reuters, Saturday, February 23, 2002

Cambodian police use batons in UN camp - witnesses

PHNOM PENH, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Police in Cambodia used electric shock batons to subdue asylum seekers from Vietnam during a visit by Vietnamese officials to a U.N. refugee camp, rights activists and witnesses said on Saturday.

The incident, which occured on Friday, coincided with a diplomatic storm over the fate of some 1,000 Vietnamese hilltribe people in camps in Cambodia after the two countries announced on Friday that all must be repatriated by April 30.

Witnesses from the camp, in Cambodia's northeastern Mondulkiri province, told Reuters the incident occured after one of the Vietnamese delegates asked a group of asylum seekers if they would return to Vietnam voluntarily.

When the asylum seekers rose to their feet shouting they would not go back, a Cambodian police officer used his electric baton on several of them, one witness said.

The camp is home to more than 500 ethnic minority people who fled Vietnam's restive Central Highlands last year after the Hanoi government sent troops to quell protests over land rights and religious freedoms.

An adviser to the U.S.-based Montagnard Foundation, which monitors events at the camps on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, told Reuters he had received credible reports that nine hilltribe asylum seekers had had electric shocks and six others beaten.

"It's deplorable. The (U.N. refugee agency) certainly don't seem to have much control of the situation," Australian lawyer Scott Johnson said by telephone from Perth.

Mondulkiri police chief Reach Samnang confirmed security was tight during the visit and said armed officers were carrying electric batons but did not use them. "I deny it. The information is really exaggerated," he told Reuters by telephone.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials in Phnom Penh and at the camp refused to comment.

Many of the hilltribe asylum seekers who fled to Cambodia say they fear persecution if they return to Vietnam.

The United States, which took in nearly 40 asylum seekers last year, has said the April 30 return deadline violated an earlier voluntary return agreement struck between the UNHCR and the two governments.

Hilltribe communities in the Central Highlands have long been the object of suspicion in Vietnam because of their Christian faith and allegiance to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.
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Reuters, Saturday, March 2, 2002

Cambodia deports 63 hilltribe asylum seekers

PHNOM PENH, March 2 (Reuters) - Cambodian police forcibly deported 63 hilltribe asylum seekers on Saturday, only hours after they crossed into Cambodia from Vietnam's restive Central Highlands, officials said.

The 63 were forced to go despite efforts by the United Nations refugee agency to take them to a U.N. facility in northeastern Cambodia housing around 500 other Vietnamese.

Over 1,000 hilltribe people have fled to Cambodia since Hanoi sent troops last year to quell ethnic minority protests over land rights and religious freedom in the Central Highlands.

"According to our policy and orders from National Police headquarters we sent them back," said Ratanakkiri province deputy police chief Doeum Yaron told Reuters.

"UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) did not want to hand them over to Cambodian police. But after we explained our policy the U.N. agreed," he said.

"They were not happy being deported. Some attempted to jump off the trucks bringing them back," he said.

UNHCR chief liaison in Cambodia Nikola Mihajlovic strongly denied an agreement was reached.

Cambodian police earlier on Saturday organised the return to Vietnam of 61 other asylum seekers from the U.N. refugee facility in Ratanakkiri. Police said those asylum seekers had volunteered to return to Vietnam.

"We organised the trucks to send them home," he said.

The UNHCR recently suspended repatriation of asylum seekers from Cambodia after the United States and human rights groups said the safety of those returned to Vietnam could not be guaranteed.

The agency also said last week an agreement with Hanoi and Phnom Penh on repatriation was being "seriously eroded" by the two governments' setting a deadline of April 30 for the return of all 1,000 asylum seekers under U.N. care in Cambodia.

UNHCR monitoring teams were forced to withdraw recently from the Central Highlands after Vietnamese authorities denied them access to hilltribe villages from which asylum seekers fled.

The UNHCR, Hanoi and Phnom Penh agreed last week to hold further talks on repatriation but no date has been set.

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kent Wiedemann told Reuters he was deeply disturbed by the deportations.

"We have been informed that the government of Cambodia is not, in effect, permitting first asylum as they had previously been," he said.

"I am very disturbed...This is in contravention of (Cambodia's) obligations under the 1951 refugee convention."

Hilltribe communities in the Central Highlands have long been suspect by Hanoi for their Christian faith and their allegiance to the U.S. army during the Vietnam War.

[See subsequent related 16 March article Cambodia deports 35 more hill people to Vietnam]

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Excerpts from U.S. Department of State "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -- 2001 -- Vietnam." Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on 4 March, 2002. [above link will open a new browser window]

On February 2, up to 4,000 ethnic minority persons demonstrated in the Central Highland town of Pleiku. On February 3, from 500-1,000 ethnic minority persons demonstrated in the Central Highland town of Buon Me Thuot. The demonstrators protested loss of forest land in the area to ethnic majority citizens. Some protested local government repression of Christian religions and some called for political autonomy or for an independent state. Details of what happened vary from witness to witness. It appears that many demonstrators in Pleiku threw stones at government buildings. Police and soldiers responded with tear gas and water cannons. Fighting occurred between police using batons and electric prods and many demonstrators armed with clubs. Scores of persons were injured on both sides.

The following day in Buon Me Thuot, after several hundred demonstrators gathered in the town center, police attempted to disperse them with water cannons. The demonstrators responded by throwing stones at the fire engine. Many persons on both sides were injured in fighting between the security forces and some of the demonstrators.

Smaller scale demonstrations with varying degrees of violence continued in rural districts of the Central Highlands until March. The Government deployed local troops augmented by civilian militias and nonuniformed security forces to secure the area. In some places, the Government forced villagers to feed and quarter troops or members of the civilian militias. On September 27 and 28, 14 ethnic minority persons arrested in connection with the unrest were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 to 12 years. One of the 14 also was convicted of illegal possession of a military weapon. On October 18, the Government sentenced six more ethnic minority persons to sentences ranging from a 3-year suspended sentence to 5 years' imprisonment. Charges against 18 others were dropped, or changed to the lesser charge of "inciting social unrest." At least 14 others were arrested and are awaiting trial. Many more were detained and later released. There were numerous credible reports that police beat the suspects when taken into custody. 

More than 900 ethnic minority persons fled across the Cambodia border fearing arrest or reprisals by security forces. There are credible reports that nonuniformed security forces crossed the Cambodian border to capture and return those who had fled. These reports add that the security forces forcibly returned approximately 50 persons who remain in detention in Dak Lak Province. Eight other persons reportedly were returned to Gia Lai Province. Two of them reportedly are in jail, and the other six were placed under administrative probation. Family members reported the disappearances of at least 42 ethnic minority persons from Gia Lai Province.

There are several conflicting reports about an event on March 10, in Plei Lau village of Gia Lai Province. According to one credible report, hundreds of police and soldiers attempted to disperse hundreds of ethnic minority persons. Fighting erupted, resulting in dozens of injuries on both sides. At one point, an ethnic minority person armed with a spear attacked a soldier and was shot and killed by two or three other soldiers. Soldiers reportedly pursued and opened fire on other persons who had fled into the forest, wounding at least two who were shot in the leg and captured. Later that day, police forced some villagers to burn down the village church.

See full report at
Above text excerpted from Section 2b.
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Reuters, Thursday, March 7, 2002

Cambodia accuses U.N. of smuggling Vietnam hilltribes
By Kevin Doyle

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia accused the United Nations refugee agency on Wednesday of smuggling 63 ethnic minority asylum seekers from Vietnam's restive Central Highlands into the country, a claim dubbed as "absurd" by the world body.

Phnom Penh made the accusation following a controversial deportation over the weekend of an equal number of Montagnard, or hilltribe, asylum seekers just hours after they had crossed into northeastern Cambodia.

The deportation drew scathing criticism from the U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia and the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who said their staff tried to prevent the asylum seekers being sent back.

"According to the authorities of the Interior (Ministry), UNHCR officials transported the so-called ethnic Vietnamese Montagnards from Vietnam...across the border to the refugee camp," Seing Lapresse, Cambodia's foreign affairs under-secretary of state, told a news conference.

"We question why the UNHCR transported those Vietnamese into Cambodia without pre-informing the Cambodian authorities."

Seing Lapresse also denied U.N. reports that a Cambodian police officer used an electric baton on asylum seekers during a visit by Hanoi officials to a refugee camp in Cambodia this month.

"Police asked the protesters to calm down...Then one provincial police (officer) shook, not used or turned on, the electric baton, only shook it at the protesters."


Nikola Mihajlovic, the UNHCR's chief liaison in Cambodia, said the Cambodian claims were "absolutely absurd".

Mihajlovic said a UNHCR official witnessed the use of the electric baton on several asylum seekers who shouted that they did not want to go back to Vietnam.

He also said it was United Nations staff who informed the Cambodian police of the whereabouts of the group of 63 asylum seekers who entered Cambodia from Vietnam over the weekend.

"We never bring asylum seekers to our site without informing authorities and we are always accompanied by a police officer when we go to collect them. This is our protocol," he said.

"These allegations are very disturbing."

More than 1,000 hilltribe asylum seekers have fled Vietnam to Cambodia in the past year following a crackdown by Hanoi on ethnic minority protests over land rights and religious freedom.

The UNHCR recently suspended the voluntary repatriation of asylum seekers from Cambodia after the United States and human rights groups said the safety of those who returned to Vietnam could not be guaranteed.

Hanoi later ordered U.N. monitoring teams out of the Central Highlands, and, with Phnom Penh, announced a deadline of April 30 for the return of all asylum seekers under U.N. care in Cambodia.

The U.N. said the deadline went against the "voluntariness" of a tri-partite repatriation agreement struck with Hanoi and Phnom Penh in January.

Talks between Vietnam, Cambodia and the U.N. on the refugee issue are scheduled for next Tuesday in Ho Chi Minh City, Seing Lapresse said.
Testimony for the Subcommittee
on Human Rights, House International Relations Committee.
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6 March, 2002 testimony presented to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Human Rights at a hearing on the State Department's Human Rights Report that was released 4 March, 2002. There were only three country-specific witnesses. One was a Montagnard. He appeared as Ekei Ede of the Rhade tribe, though it has recently become prudent to use an alias when "going public" to protect relatives from reprisal who are still in Vietnam or in Cambodian refugee camps. [Webmaster's note]

Human Rights Crisis in Vietnam’s Central Highlands

Madam Chairwoman, distinguished committee members of the Human Rights Subcommittee, I am Ekei Ede. I am Dega, or as most Americans say, a Montagnard.  I am a member of Vietnam’s disappearing hill tribes.

My brother was a village organizer in the Dega peaceful protest in Vietnam’s Central Highlands just a year ago. My brother and I were forced to flee to Cambodia where we were protected by the US Embassy and UNHCR until the United States accepted us as refugees and brought us to this great country last April.

I was very active in my Christian church in Vietnam.  I was a deacon. My religion caused me to be repeatedly persecuted, beaten, and threatened with death. I have stitches in my head from a 1997 beating when I was arrested for talking about God.

I have come here today to tell you what is happening in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. I will tell you first hand what happened to me.

Since 1975 there has been a pattern of deliberate abuse. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the US State Department have documented serious human rights abuses committed against the Montagnards in the Central Highlands, including systematic suppression of the Protestant “house church” movement, beating and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement and public gatherings, and a media blackout on the region. I mention the long-term trend as background to the horrors that have occurred since February 2001.

On January 31st and in the first few days of February of 2001 there were demonstrations at provincial and district People’s Committee offices in Dak Lak and Gia Lai Provinces. They were peaceful except for a crowd reaction when police beat a pregnant Dega woman.

The assembled Montagnards were protesting the government-sponsored theft of their land, forced sterilization of their women, and denial of the right to practice their Protestant Religion. The group swelled to twenty thousand.

The Vietnamese authorities told the crowds that they had received their message. They promised change and asked the demonstrators to go back to their villages. The demonstrators complied with the request.

The next day, possibly the most repressive and brutal crackdown in the history of Vietnam began. Thirteen Regiments of the Vietnamese Army were moved into the Central Highlands.

Ten thousand retired secret police (Cong Ang) were recalled to active duty and two were stationed in virtually every Montagnard house in Dak Lak and Gia Lai Provinces.  Our people who were already hungry were forced to feed our watchers.

Once the forces were in place there ensued a wave of arrests involving anyone identified as being part of the protesting groups' leadership. Leaders apprehended were tortured to extract the names of others involved in the peaceful demonstration. When the police came looking for me I hid in a coffee plantation.

The secret police beat my three brothers and a close friend severely trying to make them tell where I was. It was then that I fled through the jungle to Cambodia. The Police took all my possessions, then they forced my young children to sign a paper authorizing them to take everything I had. The next day they demolished my house.

The exact number of persons tortured, jailed or killed is not yet known and may never be fully known, but it is in the many hundreds.

Since the new crackdown began over 1000 Montagnards fled into Cambodia and reached the two United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sites.  Many more were captured either by Vietnamese or Cambodian security forces and returned to Vietnam for torture, imprisonment, and almost certainly in some cases execution. Some Montagnard refugees were secretly hunted down by Cambodian forces and sold back to Vietnam for bounty. 

Sadly, the Government of Cambodia has recently announced it will no longer honor it’s obligations under the 1951 Convention on Refugees.  Dega refugees are now being openly hunted down by the Cambodian Army and sent back to Vietnam where in many cases the younger women have been raped and the men imprisoned and tortured.

Sixty-three were sent back last Saturday, March 2nd, 2002. Their fate is unknown.

Even the people in the camps are not safe. In the larger of the two camps in Mondolkiri there are known Vietnamese Cong Ang (Secret Police) agents masquerading as refugees. They threaten the real refugees that they will be sent back to Vietnam and punished if they tell all they know.

Also, Vietnamese assisted by Cambodians have come to the camps to intimidate the refugees. When, on February 23rd, the refugees at Mondolkiri shouted at the Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia that they would not go back to Vietnam they were beaten and shocked with cattle prods in front of the UNHCR staff who tried to protect them.

After the initial wave of arrests and intimidation a new and stronger anti-Christianity campaign started last spring in the Central Highlands. The policy of opposing religious freedom is long-standing and public. Only “approved” religions with “approved” leaders are allowed to function.

Recently, the severe restrictions became a total ban on religious observance for Dega Christians. Some churches were burned down. Christians were ridiculed. For example, eighteen Montagnards deported from Cambodia after they were denied protection by the UNHCR were tortured every day by security forces in their village of Buon Bu Ruah. As they inflicted the beatings they repeatedly called out “Let your Jesus help you now.”

Villages were searched for Bibles, which were confiscated. Owners were jailed. A traveling team of cadre went from village to village forcing occupants to sacrifice an animal and drink the blood in a rough approximation of their long discarded animistic religious rituals. When villagers refused on religious grounds or out of fear that they would be poisoned, they were beaten.

The ethnic minority people of the highlands have lived with terrorism every day since 1975. That terror comes from their own government bent on punishing them for supporting the US in the Vietnam War, paranoid that peaceful village Christian churches somehow represent an assault by the United States, and strategically moving toward eliminating the Montagnards and settling their land with Kinh or Lowland Vietnamese.

The tempo of that state organized terrorism has increased greatly in the last year. It is crushing the Dega people.

Please help. Please convince the Government of Vietnam that my people are not a threat to them.  Please find a way to help my people live in peace.  Please find a way to protect the refugees in Cambodia and move them to freedom.

The Vietnamese have said that they intend to take them all back to Vietnam. I believe that only the United States can prevent that.

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Reuters, Saturday, March 16, 2002

Cambodia deports 35 more hill people to Vietnam

HANOI, March 16 (Reuters) - Cambodian police have handed over to Vietnam 35 hill people arrested for crossing the border illegally from Vietnam's restive Central Highlands region, state media and a local official said on Saturday.

The Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army) daily newspaper said the group was handed over from Cambodia's Mondulkiri province to Vietnam's Daklak province on Friday. 

They were returned to their home province of Gia Lai the same day, an official there said. 

Around 1,000 hill people, known as Montagnards, are in U.N. camps in Cambodia after fleeing a crackdown on unrest over land and religion in the Central Highlands last year. 

The issue of whether it is safe for them to return home has caused tension between Cambodia, Vietnam, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United States. 

A UNHCR repatriation effort -- which had been sharply criticised by the United States and rights groups for lacking adequate safeguards -- was suspended after Hanoi denied the UNHCR permission last month to visit families of potential returnees. 

The Montagnards have political support in the United States, where many resettled after assisting U.S. forces against the eventually victorious communists in the Vietnam War. 

A source in Cambodia's Mondulkiri province said authorities apprehended 38 ethnic minority asylum seekers on Tuesday but three escaped into the jungle. 

The Vietnamese newspaper quoted one returnee, 52-year-old Y Tui from Gia Lai's capital of Pleiku, as saying he fled Vietnam two weeks ago after "bad people" told him he needed to escape punishment for joining in protests last year. 

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch estimates at least 500 ethnic minority asylum seekers from Vietnam have been forcibly deported from Cambodia in the past year. 

The latest handover came despite a Cambodian pledge to the UNHCR on Tuesday that there would be no more forced repatriations after 63 people were sent back to Vietnam early this month. 

"We wanted to reiterate our concerns regarding the fact that there should be no pushbacks and no forcible returns and that Cambodia should respect its international obligations," the UNHCR's senior regional representative Jahanshah Assadi said this week. "And Cambodia has said that they would." 

However, Cu Hoa Van, chairman of the Vietnamese National Assembly's Ethnic Committee, defended deportations by Cambodia. 

"In the border control, it is not acceptable when one crosses the border illegally," he said on Friday. "(Arrests) are normal." 

The handover on Friday followed a return the previous day to Gia Lai of 43 tribal people from one of a U.N. camp outside the auspices of the controversial UNHCR repatriation programme, which it agreed with Cambodia and Vietnam in January. 

Talks among the three sides aimed at putting the process back on track failed on Tuesday when Hanoi demanded more repatriations before U.N. monitors were allowed back to the Central Highlands. 

U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Raymond Burghardt said on Friday the UNHCR should be allowed to do its work of supervising voluntary repatriations.

"All the parties involved should let them do their job -- it's a matter of upholding international standards," he said. 

[Subsequent to 2 March, 2002 article Cambodia deports 63 hilltribe asylum seekers above]

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Vietnam vice president arrives in Iraq

BAGHDAD, March 14 (Reuters) - Vietnam's Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh said ties between her country and Iraq were developing rapidly as she arrived in Baghdad on Thursday, the Iraqi News Agency said. Vietnam has close ties with Iraq, maintaining a trade relationship by supplying it with rice under the United Nations oil-for-food programme. It also supports an early end to the U.N. embargo on Iraq. 

INA quoted Binh as saying her country has the desire to further develop commercial and economic ties with Iraq, hoping the visit would be successful. "Cooperation ties between the two countries were developing rapidly in all fields," Binh said. Binh was expected to stay in Baghdad until Sunday and was then due to visit India. Vietnam's state oil firm Petrovietnam has been tipped in the past to sign a deal with Iraq to develop its Ammara oilfield at a total cost of $300 million once the U.N. embargo is lifted. 

On Wednesday, the state-run Voice of Vietnam radio called U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's efforts to drum up support against Iraq during his Middle East tour a "brazen violation of Iraq's sovereignty and international law." [Emphasis added by webmaster]

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Media Release: Montagnard Foundation March 2002


There are over 1000 Montagnard refugees suffering in Cambodian refugee camps, who fled the military crackdown by Vietnamese army and security forces which began last February 2001. Right now the indigenous Montagnard highlanders (Degar Peoples) of Vietnam’s central highlands are enduring persecution and martial law. The Degar people have been arrested, tortured, beaten and some killed. These Christian hill tribe people are officially persecuted for their faith and have had their ancestral lands confiscated. We do not know how many have been killed so far as the army strictly patrols the region. Vietnam has placed bounties for the capture of Degar people who try fleeing to Cambodia and Cambodian police have sold our people back to Vietnam – where they are tortured with electric prods. Recently the UNHCR suspended the repatriation plan as Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities entered the Mondulkiri refugee camp and used electric batons and beat 15 Degar Montagnards right in front of UNHCR officials. 

On March 1, 2002 the Vietnamese authorities forced 200 Degar people from commune H'Bau, commune Dak Doa and commune B14 to get on trucks and took them to the province city.  Here, the authorities threatened them until they signed an agreement to assist the security forces in bringing back the refugees from Cambodia.  Those who did not know to sign their names were forced to put fingerprints on a blank piece of paper. The government authorities are reportedly doing this all over the Central Highlands in an effort to get the refugees back at all costs. 

Dressed up in Cambodian uniforms Vietnamese security forces enter UN refugee camp and kidnap Montagnard Refugees
The Vietnamese government sent 200 of their security forces in Mondukiri province of Cambodia under the command of Nguyen Dinh Xoi, Nguyen Truong Thuat and Y-Le Ksor.  In March a number of these Vietnamese security people dressed in Cambodian soldier's uniforms and aided by the Cambodian police, they entered the refugee camp and kidnapped 16 Degar refugees. There names are: 1) Nay Bo, 2) Nay Bioi, 3) Y-Khoi Nie, 4) Y-Dut Enuol, 5) Y-Hung Kpuot, 6) Y-Hon, 7) Y-Ko, 8) Y-Sok, 9) Y-Kok, 10) Y-Lieu, 11) Y-Nao, 12) Y-Em, 13) Y-Kra, 14) Y-Ka ep, 15) Y-Lun Enuol and 16) H'Dui Buon Ya (this lady just gave a birth to a child 2 days before she was kidnapped on March 12). 

Are these peoples in Vietnamese prisons and being tortured like the others? 

Inside Vietnam on March 15, 2002 the Vietnamese government aided by 110 Cong An (security forces) forced 70 Degars from Buon Ma Thuot including Christian pastors to go to Mondulkiri province of Cambodia in order to convince and force the 1000 Degar refugees to return to Vietnam.  The security forces told them propaganda lies and that the refugees really want to return back to Vietnam.  How could our people want to return to Vietnam knowing that they will then be beaten, tortured and imprisoned? 

Prior to the Vietnamese government’s crackdown in February 2001 there had been no Degar people fleeing Vietnam. What was our crime? We had peacefully asked the government to respect our religious freedom, human rights, to respect our ancestral land rights and to release two of our two Christian brothers, Rahlan Pon and Rahlan Djan, whom the police had arrested and sent to prison because of their Christian beliefs.  The Montagnard Foundation has never asked our people to go to Cambodia.  We ask why would our people want to go to Cambodia unless they were being persecuted?

  1. The Degar people fled the military crackdown in Vietnam because the Vietnamese military are persecuting our race of people. The Montagnard Foundation cannot force people to flee Vietnam, like the Vietnamese government is claiming. The Vietnamese military has done this themselves.

  3. Degar refugees are not illegal border crossers or illegal migrants like the Vietnamese government is claiming -- They are refugees fleeing religious persecution, martial law and inhuman treatment by the Vietnamese government.
During the Vietnam War, the media had once neglected the human rights abuses committed by the Vietnamese communists. Now the world is finding out how Vietnam treats its citizens and the extent of their human rights violations. The situation facing our people is reaching a crisis point where the very lives of these Christian hill tribe people is in serious doubt. In the last few days, Vietnamese army troops ignored International condemnation to cease harassment of Montagnards and again crossed the border into Cambodian. Here they kidnapped our people from the refugee camps. 
The Vietnamese security forces sent letters to our refugees inside the UNHCR camp threatening them that are going to overrun the UNHCR camp and cut their bodies into pieces. 
The Montagnard Foundation makes this urgent plea to the international community as a warning, because we fear further bloodshed will occur in the camps. We further stress that repatriation will not solve the refugee problem until the situation inside Vietnam’s central highlands is corrected. We ask that the International Community and UNHCR make every effort to:
  1. Solve the underlying problem in Vietnam, namely end the persecution of the Montagnard people in Vietnam by the Vietnamese authorities.

  3. Include the Montagnard people themselves in the repatriation negotiations.

  5. Organize third country resettlement if protection cannot be guaranteed and the underlying problems in Vietnam cannot be solved. 
The Montagnard refugees ask if the United States government will accept us. If this is not achievable then we ask if another country will accept us. The Montagnards do not wish to leave their homelands but because they are faced with continued brutality by Vietnamese communist authorities, they now have no choice. If the refugees cannot be protected by the UN and international community we ask for immediate asylum in the United States or other friendly nations that do not kill their indigenous people. Thank you for your concern. 

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Reuters, Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Hanoi says 27 more Montagnards back from Cambodia

HANOI (Reuters) - Another 27 hilltribe people have returned to Vietnam's Central Highlands from Cambodia, bringing to 131 the total number who have left U.N. camps there voluntarily, Vietnam's official media reported on Wednesday.

The Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper said the returnees, who arrived in Gia Lai province on Tuesday, were in poor health after spending a long time at the camp in Cambodia's Ratanakkiri province.

It said they were provided with rice and money by local authorities.

The paper said 131 ethnic minority people had so far returned voluntarily from camps in Cambodia.

U.N. camps in Ratanakkiri and neighbouring Mondulkiri province house about 1,000 hilltribe people, also known as Montagnards, who fled Vietnam last year after a crackdown on unprecedented unrest over land and religion.

The returns took place outside the auspices of a controversial repatriation agreement reached by Vietnam, Cambodia and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in January.

The UNHCR suspended its participation in the plan last month after Hanoi denied it permission to visit families of potential returnees.

Talks this month aimed at putting the process back on track failed when Hanoi demanded more repatriations before U.N. monitors were allowed back to the Central Highlands.

Only 15 people have returned under U.N. auspices and some of those told journalists allowed a rare trip to the Central Highlands last month that they were worried about their safety and it was essential the UNHCR continue to visit them.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch estimates at least 500 ethnic minority asylum seekers have been forcibly deported from Cambodia in the past year.

On March 15, Cambodian police handed over to Vietnam 35 arrested for crossing the border illegally, despite a pledge to the U.N. Refugee agency the same week that there would be no more such incidents after 63 were forced back in early March.

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US accuses Cambodia and Vietnam over refugees' return

Stephen Collinson, Agence France Presse, 22 March, 2002

The United States on Thursday accused Vietnam of sending 400 people to a Cambodian camp in an "aggressive and unruly" attempt to coerce Montagnard hill-tribe refugees to return to their homes in Vietnam's restive Central Highlands. 

State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said that 12 tour buses packed with 400 "individuals" were dispatched to the UN High Commission for Refugees camp in Cambodia's Mondulkiri province earlier Thursday. 

"Cambodian officials admitted the visitors to the camp over the objections of the UNHCR," he said, in remarks likely to spark a new war of words with Hanoi over the refugees issue. 

"The reported aggressive and unruly behavior of these Vietnamese visitors is cause for grave concern," Reeker said in a statement that used unusually strong language. 

Some 1,000 refugees from the Central Highlands have been living in camps in Cambodia under the UN agency's protection since fleeing an army clampdown on hill tribe protests early last year. 

A UN-supervised programme for their voluntary repatriation has been on hold since last month, amid a row between the UNHCR and Hanoi over the agency's access to the refugees' home villages in the highlands. 

Reeker accused the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia of acting outside the framework of usual UNHCR procedures and demonstrating a "disregard for the UNHCR's role to ensure repatriations are not subject to undue influence, coercion or intimidation." 

"In this case, despite the intimidating behavior, only five camp residents chose to return to Vietnam. They signed statements that they were leaving voluntarily, according to the UNHCR." 

"We continue to support repatriation as one choice for this population, so long as it adheres to the core principle that all repatriations must be voluntary, based on credible, meaningful pre- and post-repatriation inspections and counseling by UNHCR." 

Reeker said the matter was being raised with both Vietnam and Cambodia. Cambodia's ambassador to the United States, Roland Eng, was seen inside the State Department building late Thursday, but US officials declined to say whether he had been called in to hear a protest over the affair. 

In February, Vietnam accused Washington of "brutal interference," which prompted a decision by the United Nations to delay refugee repatriations. 

US officials had strongly criticised the agency's plans to press ahead with the repatriation of a first batch of 109 refugees after just two days of field visits to check on conditions in the refugees' home villages. 

Human rights groups have also expressed concern about the safety of any refugees who return. The Central Highlands have been largely closed to independent observers since a wave of protest among the region's indigenous hill tribes sparked the army crackdown in February of last year. 

Hanoi insists the unrest was the work of US-based emigres who led an armed rebellion in the region until the early 1990s. 

But diplomats say Montagnard hill-tribe calls for land rights and religious freedoms met with a "heavy-handed" response from the Communist authorities.

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Montagnard resettlement to the USA -- two news articles

Associated Press, Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Cambodia: Asylum Seekers Can Resettle
By Chris Decherd
The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH (AP) - Cambodia has agreed to let the United States resettle more than 900 ethnic minority asylum-seekers from Vietnam despite the objections of Hanoi, officials said Tuesday.

The agreement would appear to be the solution to the diplomatic and humanitarian problem of what to do with the asylum seekers, who are currently sheltered in two U.N.-administered camps in isolated northeastern Cambodia.

U.S. Ambassador Kent Wiedemann on Tuesday confirmed that Cambodia had given permission to resettle hill tribe people known as Montagnards in the United States.

U.S. officials have said for months they were open to resettling the Montagnards, most of whom are Christians and have families which allied themselves with U.S. troops against the communists during the Vietnam War 30 years ago.

The Montagnards began crossing into Cambodia about a year ago after security forces quashed their protests about religious persecution and land tenure rights. At least 38 Montagnards were resettled in North Carolina last year.

Om Yentieng, a personal adviser to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Hun Sen decided that third-country resettlement was the best option because repatriation plans "broke down" and Cambodia does not want refugee camps on its soil.

"If any country gives permission for poor people to come to their land, why not?" he said, adding that resettlement could begin soon. "We don't want to see these people suffer a long time."

Ambassador Wiedemann said he was pleased with the ''humanitarian'' decision by Cambodia.

''I think it is very responsible thing for the Cambodians to do to decide that that the resettlement option is the best way forward at this point,'' he said.

On Saturday, the human rights group Amnesty International said it feared the Montagnards would be forcibly taken home, where their lives or their freedom would be threatened following the breakdown of the voluntary repatriation agreement.

In Hanoi on Tuesday, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh repeated her government's opinion that the asylum seekers are "illegal border crossers."

''They were tricked and instigated to flee. Vietnam's government has declared that when they return to Vietnam, they will not be prosecuted, punished or discriminated against for their past activities."

''In reality, those who have returned have not been discriminated against or punished. They were given help to stabilize their lives,'' she said. ''The allegations about persecution are only groundless fantasies.''


Reuters, Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Vietnam says Montagnards do not need asylum

HANOI, March 26 (Reuters) - Vietnam said on Tuesday it was unaware of a U.S. offer of asylum to some 1,000 ethnic minority people who fled to Cambodia, but said there was no reason to consider them refugees.

"We have no information as to U.S. intentions," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said in response to earlier statements by U.S. and U.N. officials in Phnom Penh.

But she added: "Talk about any oppression is just groundless imagination."

Thanh said the hill people, or Montagnards, had been "cheated or incited" to leave Vietnam's Central Highlands and reiterated Hanoi's pledge that they would not be punished or discriminated against if they returned.

"There is no reason to consider these people as refugees," she said, adding that Hanoi considered them "illegal border crossers."

Kent Wiedemann, U.S. ambassador in Phnom Penh, said in the Cambodian capital earlier that the United States was willing to take the ethnic minority refugees if Cambodia agreed.

Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told Reuters Cambodia would not block resettlement as long as it had the agreement of Vietnam.

The hill people fled to Cambodia after Vietnam cracked down on ethnic minorities protesting for land rights and religion freedom in the Central Highlands last year.

Sources in Cambodia's northeastern Mondulkiri province said the people were due to be moved to Phnom Penh within days because of fears that they could be forced back to Vietnam.

Last Friday, the U.N. refugee agency pulled out of an agreement with Hanoi and Phnom Penh to return the refugees to Vietnam, citing alleged coercion to force them to go home and concerns for their safety once they were sent back.

Last year, Washington gave asylum to 38 hill people from the Central Highlands, a move Hanoi denounced as interference in its affairs that would encourage more illegal border crossing.

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Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release
March 26, 2002


Montagnards in Cambodia

Events of March 21 at the United Nations refugee site in Mondolkiri have caused the United States and other countries to reassess the near term prospects for a population whose future has been unresolved for far too long.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has concluded on the basis of March 21 and other incidents that, unfortunately, conditions that would allow for a satisfactory voluntary repatriation of the Montagnard population do not exist at this time.

In light of the urgent humanitarian needs of these asylum-seekers, the United States has formally offered resettlement in the United States to all among this group who qualify and wish to be resettled.  We request that the Royal Government of Cambodia respond to this offer as quickly as possible.

We continue to support voluntary repatriation to Vietnam as one of several durable solutions for this population.  In this case the solution should adhere to the core principle that all repatriations must be voluntary, based on credible, meaningful, pre- and post- repatriation inspections and counseling by the UN refugee agency. 

We urge Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities to work with the UN to establish a framework which would permit voluntary repatriation under these conditions.  However, voluntary repatriation on these terms is not now available and we urge the Cambodian government to facilitate resettlement for those who seek it.

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Associated Press, Sunday, March 31, 2002

Cambodia: Vietnam Refugees Can Leave
By Ker Munthit, Associated Press Writer

ANG SNUOL, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodia said Sunday it will allow Vietnamese refugees to be resettled in the United States, ending the uncertainty over the fate of nearly 1,000 ethnic tribespeople who say they fled persecution by Vietnam's communist government.

The Cambodia government has decided to let the refugees "live in the United States on a voluntary basis," Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

Those who prefer to go back to Vietnam can live there "with safety and dignity," he told a public rally during the inauguration of a Buddhist temple in this village outside Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

Most of the refugees have already said they want to live in the United States.

The United States last week repeated its longstanding offer to take the Christian tribespeople, known as Montagnards, after a United Nations (news - web sites) plan to repatriate them to Vietnam collapsed.

But the U.S. plan remained in a limbo pending an approval by Cambodia.

Hun Sen indicated the resettlement process could start in the next several days.

He said that allowing the refugees to leave Cambodia will bring an end to "the very serious headache" caused to his government.

The 905 Vietnamese are currently living in two U.N.-administered camps in northeastern Cambodia. They fled their villages in Vietnam's Central Highlands after the communist government crushed protests in February 2001 over encroachment of traditional tribal lands, economic discrimination and religious restrictions.

Hun Sen said the resettlement in the United States will apply only to the Montagnards living in the two camps.

"We will not accept any more people. We will send them back. Whoever will come in the future will be sent back. There will be no more camps on Cambodian soil after this solution," he said.

Many of the Montagnards have relatives who fought alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, which makes the Vietnamese government distrustful of them.

Vietnam opposes the planned resettlement in the United States. It views the asylum seekers as wayward citizens and denies any discrimination of the Montagnards.

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The Washington Times
April 7, 2002
Commentary: FORUM section

Creeping genocide in Asia

I commend Michael Benge's Commentary Forum contribution (The Washington Times, Jan. 13, "Terrifying abuses in Vietnam") for highlighting the truth about Vietnam's treatment of the Montagnards. The International Commission of Jurists has also concluded that the Vietnamese government is committing systematic persecution of these indigenous people (ICJ Report: Australian Section, July 2001) - namely through torture, killings, religious oppression and confiscation of ancestral lands.

It is disturbing however, to note attempts to downgrade Vietnam's unspeakable brutality (See: Forum, March 10, "True labeling or red-baiting," by Andrew Wells-Dang). Such reporting only serves to legitimize Vietnam's human rights abuses while prolonging the suffering of innocent Montagnards. Mr. Wells-Dang should be reminded that no country (communist or noncommunist) should be excused for human-rights abuses and that inside Vietnam's central highlands today, thousands of soldiers and security forces have brutally enforced martial law. While this persecution may not be classed as "international terrorism" in a "al Qaeda" context, I can assure him that a Christian Montagnard chained to the floor in an underground cell and paralyzed from electric shock torture, would still consider it an act of "terrorism". 

There is evidence that not only are U.N. population funds being used for forced abortion in China (The Washington Times, Jan. 29, "Population fund at U.N. protested") but that these funds are being used by the Vietnamese communist government to eliminate the Montagnard hill tribes through "forced and coercive" sterilizations programs. This is most disturbing given that "imposing measures to prevent births" is defined as a crime of genocide under the U.N. Convention on the Crime and Punishment of Genocide.

The Montagnard Foundation has documented more than 1,000 cases of Montagnard
women who were sterilized by the Vietnamese authorities through force, coercion, bribery, threats of fines or imprisonment. The total figure however, is unknown as the Montagnard's homelands remains under martial law and hidden from international scrutiny.

In July 2000, another lawyer and I questioned Eric Palstra, the Senior External Relations officer of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Geneva on Vietnam's "sterilization policies." He confirmed the UNFPA and World Bank do indeed fund family planning programs in Vietnam, but nervously shifted all blame from the United Nations. His exact words concerning the sterilizations were "In Vietnam there is not always a trickle down effect of proper implementation." I asked if he knew whether Vietnam was targeting the Montagnards "specifically" and how U.N. monies for these procedures are monitored. On this he could not give me an answer.

On Aug. 8, 2001, I watched as the Vietnamese ambassador to the United Nations, Nguyen Quy Binh, faced the U.N. Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination. His response to questions of forced and coerced sterilizations was that the Vietnamese government offers "incentives and fines only" for sterilizations of Montagnard women. He denied these sterilizations are "forced." These "fines" and "incentives" are however, themselves nothing less than grave violations of the international standards regarding reproductive rights. The U.S. government even passed a law (Tiarhart Amendment), which prohibits the granting of U.S. monies to programs by countries conducting such violations of women's rights.

Montagnard women continue to recount that during 1996-2001 Vietnamese authorities entered their villages daily to round up women of childbearing age and forced, bribed and threatened them to undergo surgical sterilization. One woman sobbed when she told me how her sister died during the operation.

In the early 1990s, the communist authorities conducted sterilizations using an acid chemical "quinicrine," in pellet form which, when inserted into the uterus, would dissolve and burn the uterus shut. The British Medical journal Lancet (1993, 342, July 24, pages 213-217) reported more than 31,000 women being sterilized in Vietnam by this method.

While it is unknown whether Vietnam still uses this "acid," it seems Hanoi has an agenda to lower the population of the Montagnards. Recently, Vietnam Minister Tran Thi Trung Chien stated that Vietnam intends to achieve a zero growth rate, especially in rural remote areas, by the year 2005 (Asia Pulse, "Vietnam plans target 0 percent population growth in rural areas by 2005," Dec, 27, 2001). "Rural remote areas" is notably, where the Montagnards reside and, given Vietnam's escalating repression against them, this prospect of zero growth warrants urgent investigation.

Sterilizations however, are just the tip of the iceberg of persecution confronting the Montagnards. Since 1975, the Vietnamese government has arrested, imprisoned and tortured them, while confiscating their ancestral lands and persecuting them for converting to Christianity. The revenge for the Vietnam War continues, for more than 40,000 Montagnards had once served as allies to the U.S. during that conflict.

Over the past year, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, two European Parliament Resolutions, various nongovernmental organizations, U.N. bodies, and U.S. members of Congress have condemned Vietnam's abuses of the Montagnards. The U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch even reported how  Montagnards were made to drink animal's blood while being forced to renounce their Christian beliefs.

More than 1,000 Montagnards who have escaped into Cambodia now suffer an uncertain fate as they languish in emergency refugee camps set up by the United Nations. Vietnam has offered "bounties" for their capture, while both Vietnam and Cambodia have blatantly ignored international law and sold, beaten, kidnapped and arrested many fleeing refugees.

The situation is deplorable and full support should be given to the members of U.S. Congress who are appealing to President Bush to exercise his discretionary powers over funding destined for family planning programs by nations who violate women's rights. In Vietnam's case, justice would also demand that all aid and trade benefits to Vietnam be halted immediately until persecution of the Montagnards ceases.

I echo the words of Former Deputy Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam, Wolf Lehman (The Washington Times, Jan. 30) "that Vietnam must address abuses." America's loyal allies from the Vietnam War must not be abandoned to continually face the revenge enacted by Hanoi. It is thus America's duty to now assist the Montagnards.

While President Bush and the State Department should be highly commended for the recent offer of asylum to the 1,000 Montagnard refugees who escaped to Cambodia, we must not forget the underlying problem inside Vietnam. Forced from their ancestral lands and allocated small plots to farm, the Montagnards continue to suffer malnutrition and poverty. If they voice a protest, they face torture, imprisonment or death. Vietnam's intent becomes quite clear - it is practicing "creeping" genocide.

The lies and denials by Vietnam's official spokespeople on the Montagnard situation is criminal, as is Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry's refusal to permit the "Vietnam Human Rights Act" from being voted on in the U.S. Senate. What reason can Mr. Kerry have for holding a "human rights" bill from being voted on?

Vietnam remains one of the worst violators of human rights in Asia and its reign of terror against the Montagnards must cease. In the name of humanity - the international community must act urgently and force Vietnam to end the persecution of these indigenous peoples.

International Commission of Jurists, West Australian Branch.

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Donate to the Montagnard USA Resettlement Relief Effort
905 Montagnards are currently being resettled to the USA
Your contribution is tax-deductible and VERY much appreciated

Contact Info and Links:

US Dept of State
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
Phone: (202) 647-9641 Fax: (202) 647-5939
Questions On or Opinions About U.S. Foreign Policy:
International Religious Freedom Report -- Vietnam (released on October 26, 2001)

Mrs. Mary Robinson
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: (41-22) 917-9000  Fax: (41-22) 917-9016
UNHCR article about the "agreement"
UNHCR "Contact" web page
See also: "The Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people."

National Security Council -- Asian Affairs
Special Assistant to the President Torkel L Patterson
Phone: (202) 456-9251  Fax: (202) 456-2883

Contact your US Senator
(Look up Senator by Name or State)

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA
Tel: 1-(212) 290-4700, Fax: 1-(212) 736-1300

Save The Montagnard People, Inc. (STMP)

The Montagnard Foundation

Vietnam's Dirty Little Secret -- Washington Times article, 11 March, 2001

Repression of Montagnards -- Human Rights Watch report, April, 2002  Extensive

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To the Montagnard Photo Gallery

© 2002, Stephen L. Harrison. All rights reserved.