By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– The Vietnamese government continued a massive military operation Monday, November 1, involving thousands of armed soldiers, riot police, other security forces and local police to “wipe out” Degar Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands who refuse to join a state approved church, according to representatives.
The Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI) said operation “tieu quet”, or “wipe out”, began August 22 and that security forces have since been “strategically placed” to watch over Christians in some 23 villages in Vietnam’s mountainous Gia Lai province.
“[Authorities are ] making sure that no one is still worshiping God at their villages and that no one is leaving to attend [an independent] church for worship,” MFI said, citing sources in the region. “The security police are ordered to arrest, torture and send to prison any one who violates this law.” There was no immediate comment from Vietnamese officials, but the Foreign Ministry has in the past denied MFI’s reports of wrongdoing.
Vietnam’s Communist government has allowed Christians to join the official Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN). But many Degar Christians, also known by the French name of Montagnards, or ‘mountain dwellers’, prefer to worship outside state control on principal grounds, often in what are also known as house churches.
The latest reported military action comes after the the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September 2007 reportedly announced a crackdown on independent churches of Degar Montagnard Christians as part of a controversial social program to improve living standards.
It reportedly said some nearly 22-thousand pastors would be recruited and trained by authorities “so that they can go help the people who are living in the province, district and communal villages.” However, it said, the government picked pastors would preach and teach “until they…the tribal people, believe in the [government affiliated Evangelical Church of Vietnam…” The strategy made clear that Degar Montagnard Christians must worship the Communist Party first and can not put God above all, MFI added.
The Vietnamese government, it said “has created for our people a new religion and built us a new church but it is not the religion and church that we need. What we really need is the right to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the church of our hearts and not a building or religion constructed for and by the government.”
It cited several Bible verses including “1 John 4:8 whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” and, in the book of “Romans 13:10 love does no harm to its neighbor.” MFI told BosNewsLife that it has asked its supporters to pray for the safety of the Degar Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands.
The United States has been under international pressure to again include Vietnam in a list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding alleged religious rights violations. The U.S. had omitted Vietnam from that list in 2006, citing religious freedom improvements.