The US-based support group Montagnard Foundation Inc said this week that Vietnamese troops have been mobilized in the Central Highlands to prevent hill tribe Christians from celebrating Christmas.
Troops have surrounded hill tribe hamlets and travel between villages has been banned. Those caught celebrating the Christian festival will be fined 100,000 Vietnam Dong—around $10, the foundation claimed in a press release.
The foundation also accused unnamed officials of threatening to arrest, imprison and even open fire with weapons on Montagnards celebrating Christmas.
“The Montagnard Foundation denounces the escalation of religious persecution in Vietnam,” the statement said.
Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Vietnam to halt repression of the Montagnard ethnic minority in its Central Highlands, the scene of widespread unrest last year.
The human rights watchdog also asked Cambodia to protect Montagnards who fled across the border to seek sanctuary.
“The Montagnard minority in Vietnam have not only faced systematic repression since large-scale unrest in February 2001, but those fleeing have also been denied safe refuge in neighboring
Cambodia,” it said.
The rights group Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 1,000 possible asylum seekers have been deported to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities following the 2001 demonstrations over land rights and religious persecution. More than 400 were seized and sent back in April and May of this year alone, Human Rights Watch says.
Rights workers say dozens have been deported in recent months. But Cambodian officials claim all of those sent back to Vietnam have been illegal immigrants, and have justified closing the country’s borders to future asylum seekers with calls for national security.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh on Thursday blasted Amnesty International’s report, branding it a “blatant distortion.”
“We resolutely reject this report,” Reuters reported Phan Thuy Thanh as saying.
Asked if the Vietnamese government would agree to the Amnesty call to allow monitoring of troop activities in the Central Highland, Phan Thuy Thanh said: “Vietnam is a sovereign state. We need no one to come to monitor the situation in our country,” Reuters reported.
Phan Thuy Thanh also said the claims of repression could not be correct, as the Central Highlands were enjoying economic growth of over 10 percent.
However, Montagnards who fled to Cambodia claim the economic growth has been built on the confiscation of their lands for coffee and rubber plantations.
(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse)
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