VN Denies Deporting Hill Tribe Minorities

Vietnam denied on Thursday recent allegations that some 400 Montagnards were deported from Cambodia and said ties with the US would be jeopardized if Washington placed it on a blacklist of countries that restricts religious freedom.

Foreign Ministry spokes­wo­man Phan Thuy Thanh said the reports of mass deportations from Cambodia by US-based Human Rights Watch were aimed at destabilizing Vietnam’s Central High­lands, Agence France-Presse reported.

“By disseminating such re­ports, Human Rights Watch and other hostile forces have demonstrated their ill-will on the issue of ethnic minorities in the highlands illegally crossing the border to Cambodia,” Phan Thuy Thanh said. “Forces hostile to Vietnam wish to create a flow of people illegally crossing the border in order to destabilize the area between Vietnam and Cambodia, particularly in the Central Highlands,” she said.

More than 1,000 Montagnards fled to Cambodia after a massive security operation was deployed in the neighboring Central Highlands last year to quell ethnic minority protests for land rights and religious freedom.

Human Rights Watch recently reported a fresh wave of oppression and arrests in the Central Highlands against Montagnard church leaders, land rights activists and villagers suspected of guiding refugees to Cambodia last year. More than 700 Mont­agnards who fled to Cambodia were resettled in the US as refugees, but Cambodia has since closed it borders to those fleeing the Central Highlands.

A representative of the New York-based Watch said Friday that in April and May alone there were documented reports of hundreds of Mont­agnards fleeing Vietnam and being turned back from Cambo­dia.

Under international law, those people should be allowed access to the UN to claim asylum, the representative said. “If there are no problems in the Central High­lands, then why does Viet­nam not open [the area] up for the world to see.”

Phan Thuy Thanh also told the press briefing in Hanoi that relations with the US—which have thawed in recent years between the once war-time foes—were at stake if Vietnam is designated among “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Earlier this week, the US Com­mission on International Reli­gious Freedom, an independent advisory agency for Wash­ington, said Vietnam and 11 other countries should be placed on the US State Depart­ment blacklist, the Associated Press reported.

Listed countries are guilty of violating religious freedom and can be sanctioned economically.

“We ask the US State Depart­ment not to accept this recommendation,” Phan Thuy Thanh said. “It would negatively affect relations,” she said.


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