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.