By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Three Christian ethnic minority tribespeople were reportedly in custody Thursday, May 10, on charges of “anti-state activity” as part what rights activists view as a wider government crackdown on indigenous Degar Montagnard people.
Official media said the men, from the Ede and Gia Rai tribes, are accused of “undermining national political unity” in central Gia Lai province.
The men, identified as Runh, Byuk and Jonh, allegedly belong to the armed separatist group FULRO, the French acronym for the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races.
French news agency AFP quoted police newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan as saying that the men worked with Kok Ksor, a FULRO founder now exiled in the United States.
Ksor leads the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), a group aiming to “preserve the lives and the culture” of the predominantly Christian Montagnards,also known as Degar people, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
“Vietnam continues to persecute the indigenous Montagnards,” MFI advisor Scott Johnson told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Founded in the 1950s, the FULRO fought successive regimes to establish an independent state for ethnic minority tribes in the central highlands.
FULRO also supported American troops in the Vietnam War, before officially disbanding in the early 1990s.
However Vietnamese security forces reportedly found a number of home-made weapons, including bows, arrows and swords used by the “reactionary organization” to oppose authorities, official media said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the reports independently. However MFI and other rights investigators have told BosNewsLife that Montagnards, the French word for “mountain people”, are mainly targeted because of their involvement in non-official Christian churches, rights protests and their past support for American troops during the Vietnam War.
Some 2,000 tribespeople reportedly fled to Cambodia over 2001 and 2004 after Vietnamese authorities crushed protests in the region.
For years, Montagnards have protested against what they view as the confiscation of their ancestral land and religious persecution, leading to reportedly brutal repression.
In another incident, eight mainly Christian Hmong tribesmen were jailed in March after a court in northwestern Vietnam sent them to 30 months imprisonment for what the government called “disturbing social order and inciting separatist unrest last year.”
The government claimed “thousands of evangelical Hmong” had gathered in Dien Bien province waiting for their God to appear to take them to the promised land in May, 2011.
Vietnam’s government reportedly launched a crackdown after additionally accusing leaders of advocating for an independent Hmong kingdom.
Some Hmong advocacy groups said over 60 people were killed and hundreds of others injured in that crackdown.
BosNewsLife news agency quoted James Jacob Prasch, executive director of Moriel Ministries (MM), as warning at the time the real figure may be higher than dozens. “I am told by Hmong pastors that so many were shot dead that they were buried in mass graves bulldozed over,” he added.
He claimed “the massacre” was the horrific aftermath of shortwave broadcasts by preacher Harold Camping of California-based Family Radio. Camping claimed that Christ would return to Earth to “rapture” his followers to heaven on May 21, 2011, as mankind had run out of time.
After the broadcasts, roughly 7,000 Hmong Christians attempted to gather “on a mountain praising God” in late April and early May, but instead found “police and military police” who slaughtered “many of them at gunpoint beheading two pastors” Prasch said last year.
Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, is a majority Buddhist nation of about 86 million, where the government claims to respect freedom of belief and religion.
However religious activity and churches remain under tight state control and some groups, including house churches and Montagnard congregations, have complained of ill-treatment.