Report: VN Montagnards Afraid for Relatives

Foreign journalists on a rare state-organized visit to a hill tribe village in Vietnam’s Central High­lands were hustled back into their cars by Vietnamese authorities and ordered to leave after several local Montagnard women being in­terviewed defiantly said they feared for their husbands’ safety if they were repatriated from Cam­bo­dia by the UN, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The women, from the hamlet of Tuoc Biek in Gia Ria province, wept as they told reporters that security services kept them un­der watch and forbade them to practice their religion, Reuters re­ported.

“They follow us and watch us all the time,” Bom, 30, told Reu­ters.

The journalists were in the Central Highlands as 15 Mon­­tagnards who fled to Cambodia during the last year were being re­turned home under a UN High Com­mission for Refugees repatriation deal signed last month with Cambodia and Vietnam.

Bom’s husband is among the 1,080 Montagnards who fled Viet­nam after a crackdown on hill tribe protests last year and is now under UNHCR protection in Cam­­bodia .

“If my husband were to come back and nothing was to happen to him, then I would want him to come back,” she told Reuters.

Vietnamese authorities have promised not to punish any Mon­tag­nards who return from Cam­bo­dia, but human rights groups claim abuses are ongoing in the Central Highlands.

Groups of women cried as they saw journalists and complained they were prevented from practicing their Christian religious be­liefs, Reuters reported.

As their complaints grew more nu­merous, the chairman of the lo­cal town People’s Committee, Nu­yen Than Xuan, intervened, ac­cord­ing to Reu­ters.

“It’s finished, it’s finished. Now please get into your cars,” Reu­ters reported him telling journalists.

He and other government officials shooed journalists back onto buses, saying it was not safe to be in the village, Reuters reported.

This was only the second time journalists were allowed into the Central Highlands following the government crackdown.


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