US lawmakers are calling on Secretary of State Colin Powell to condemn Hanoi’s most recent suppression of Montagnard protests for religious freedom and land rights and to urge Cambodia to assist refugees fleeing Vietnam’s volatile Central Highlands.
The petition, which Powell was due to receive Tuesday, also accuses Vietnam of employing “brutal force” and states that “numerous” reports have alleged that hundreds died following the April 10 and 11 Montagnard demonstrations in the Central Highlands.
“We ask you to condemn the recent crackdown in strongest terms possible and strongly recommend that the Department of State designate Vietnam as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) for religious freedoms,” a copy of the letter said.
“As the situation continues to rapidly deteriorate and thousands of Montagnards face imminent danger, we also call on you to address the refugee situation in the region. We urge you to call upon the Cambodian government to open its borders to Montagnard asylum seekers,” it added.
Reports from Mondolkiri province this week alleged that more than 160 Montagnards who fled the unrest were apprehended as they tried to cross the border into Cambodia. Other reports alleged that still more asylum seekers were being hunted by Vietnamese and Cambodian forces.
Cambodian authorities denied the allegation, though security has been stepped up on the border to a replay of events following the first mass demonstrations in the Central Highlands in 2001, when more than 1,000 Montagnards successfully found shelter in Cambodia with the assistance of the UN refugee agency.
Montagnard refugees in Cambodia have spoken in detail of religious repression and usurping of ancient tribal lands by lowland Vietnamese farmers to grow coffee. Former allies of the US Army during the war in Vietnam, the Montagnards claim their ill treatment is a form of reprisal by communist Hanoi, against whom they once fought.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh issued an official statement Tuesday blaming the unrest on extremists in the pay of Montagnards in the US who harbor plans to establish an independent state in the Central Highlands.
“These were acts aimed at causing public disorder, dividing people of the Central Highlands, damaging the national great unity,” it stated.