21 June 2004


 Quick Navigation


Why Vietnam Persecutes the Montagnards

Interview With Father Giuseppe Hoang Minh Thang


ROME, JUNE 21, 2004 ( The Vietnamese government launched a crackdown last Holy Week against demonstrators as part of its persecution of Montagnards, primarily Christians. At least 400 people were reported killed in the Daklak province.

The demonstrators, members of regional tribes, were asking for the return of their lands confiscated by the government. They were also asking for religious freedom, and for development of the region, one of the poorest in Vietnam.

To understand the situation better, ZENIT interviewed Father Giuseppe Hoang Minh Thang, who works in the Vietnamese editorial office of Vatican Radio.

Q: Who are the Montagnards?

Father Hoang Minh Thang: The Montagnards, or "Degar," are one of the oldest native peoples of Southeast Asia. They have inhabited the peninsula of Indochina for more than 2,000 years.

Although the majority live in Vietnam, there are several hundred thousand Montagnards also in Cambodia and some tens of thousands in Laos. During the French colonization, which began in the 19th century, it is estimated that the Montagnard population was over 3.5 million. Today the survivors number between 700,000 and 800,000.

When the United States intervened in Vietnam, the Montagnards were on their side, in the hope that their requests for the political, social and cultural autonomy of the whole native population would be recognized.

With the end of the war in Vietnam the Hanoi regime nationalized the Montagnards' lands without recognizing any of their rights on territories which they had inhabited for thousands of years. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and moved to infertile lands to make way for coffee plantations, property of the state.

The Montagnards represent a population of more than 30 different tribes, with thousands of combatants. The two principal tribes are the Banar, with close to 400,000 people, and the Jarrai, with 300,000. In large measure they are Christians.

The Communist government has never put up with them, first because they allied themselves with the Americans, then because many of them are Christians, and now because their only interest is to possess their lands. But the Montagnards are a hard, fierce ethnic group, and so they rebel.

Q: Is the news about their persecution true?

Father Hoang Minh Thang: The Montagnards have always been very courageous. Back in 2001 they held a demonstration of 20,000 people against the government.

According to some, it is possible that the government ordered their men to stir these protests to be able to decimate all the Montagnard leaders, enticing them to a snare -- a classical strategy used by all dictatorships worldwide.

On the eve of the 2004 Easter celebrations, the Montagnards organized a demonstration starting from their widespread villages, across municipalities and reaching provincial capitals in the central highlands of Vietnam, to come together and pray publicly before the buildings of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The motto was "Moak Hrue Yesus Kgu Hdip" -- Joyful Day, Christ Has Risen. According to local sources, there were 130,000. Government forces used arms causing about 400 deaths.

It is difficult to confirm what really happened because the Vietnamese government impeded foreigners from going to the region. All foreign citizens had to get off airplanes going to Buon Ma Thout; flying over the area was prohibited.

Personnel from the U.S. Embassy traveling by car to the region were blocked for security reasons.

Q: How important is the Christian faith for the Montagnards?

Father Hoang Minh Thang: One hears from different quarters talk about persecution against Christian Montagnards. Despite the persecution and the exodus of priests and missionary pastors at the time the Communist regime was established, the Montagnards have kept the faith.

In my diocese alone there are more than 180,000 Catholic Montagnards. We have gathered several testimonies of Montagnards who have been able to keep the faith and not forget the liturgical prayers by listening to Radio Veritas, which broadcasts from Manila the program of the Vietnamese office of Vatican Radio.

The regime has threatened them, demanding that they abandon the Christian faith, but they have refused to do so.

They have lost their jobs, they cannot send their children to the public school, but they continue to defend their faith. They recently built six wooden churches in six different villages.

Q: Vietnam needs to develop and to do so it will have to make democratic overtures. What is your opinion in this respect?

Father Hoang Minh Thang: From the point of view of human rights and religious freedom, the government is obliged to keep them in mind for commercial reasons. But in general it tends to resist changes.

To tell the truth, no Communist believes any longer in Communist ideology, which they themselves have betrayed, now following the capitalist system. The only thing they believe in is money, a lot of money, and power.

This explains the plague of corruption never before seen in the history of Vietnam. And to achieve this objective the government continues to use the specter of communism and socialism to oppress and spread terror and fear to be able to squeeze the people more effectively.

But this cannot last forever, because the seed bears in itself its own destruction.


SOURCE:ZENIT News Services




Copyright 2005 Montagnard Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All materials from this web site may not be published, rewritten or redistributed
in any form without the prior written consent of Montagnard Foundation, Inc.