Christian minorities have endured brutal treatment in Egypt and Vietnam over the last few days. Events in Egypt, where an ultra-conservative Islamic group—emboldened by the new freedom delivered by the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak—has lashed out at Egypt's Coptic minority have been widely covered by the mainstream press. More under the public radar has been the recent clampdown by Hanoi on Christian tribal groups in Vietnam, building up to an outbreak last week of widespread violence.
Viet-Catholic News is reporting as many as 49 Hmong have been killed in days of violence in Dien Bien province along the border with Laos. Vietnamese officials did not release any information about arrests, injuries or deaths among Hmong protestors. Foreign reporters were not permitted to enter the region, so independent confirmation of events there is difficult. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said conditions in Dien Bien where apparently thousands of Hmong had gathered to protest had been "stabilized." She said that Hmong from Muong Nhe district began gathering May 1 after hearing a rumor that a supernatural force would appear to bring the people to the promised land where they would find health, happiness and wealth. “Taking advantage of the situation, the sabotage forces stimulated people to call for an independent state, causing public disorder in the district,” Nga said in a statement, quoted by Agence France Presse.
But Viet-Catholic News says the conflict has less to do with the supernatural and most to do with land grabs by Vietnamese officials and growing demands for religious freedom from the Hmong. It reports that Hmong demonstrations were broken up May 3 by forces from both Laos and Vietnam and that elements of the Vietnam People's Army opened fire on demonstrators. Viet-Catholic News reports attack helicopters were even used to run down escaping demonstrators and that hundreds remain missing.
Viet Catholic News reports: "Mùa A Son, chairman of the Dien Bien Province, blamed the incident for 'hostile forces infiltrated to illegally preach and incite the people to join an independent movement calling for the establishment of a separate kingdom of Hmong people.'" But Catholic sources say that the incident was an inevitable result of a series of violations of land ownership and restrictions on Christians. According to these sources, companies owned by Armed forces Chief of Staff of Vietnam General Tran Quang Khue and other generals who dominate the politburo in Vietnam have been driving local Hmong communities off their land. These sources charge: “There is a rampant growth of persecutions which range from forcing Christians to undertake corvée labour on Sundays, thereby preventing them from fulfilling their Mass obligations and attending worship services; to coerce them into renouncing their faith.”
“We are concerned about credible reports that many poor and ordinary Hmong people in the Dien Bein area, as well as other people along the Vietnam and Laos border, have been arrested or killed by Vietnamese Army, and Lao Army, soldiers and police because of their protests for land reform to Communist officials in Hanoi, their opposition to illegal logging, or because of their independent Christian and Animist religious beliefs,” said Christy Lee, Executive Director of Hmong Advance, Inc. in Washington, D.C.
“Ordinary Hmong people, and other highland and forest-dwelling minority peoples in Laos and Vietnam," Lee charged, "have also been subjected to a new and increasing injustice by the authorities and Vietnam People's Army-owned companies, which continue their oppressive methods, religious persecution, and to engage in illegal logging in Vietnam and Laos, including the Dien Bien area in Vietnam, as well as the Laotian provinces of Xieng Khouang, Khammoune, Luang Prabang and elsewhere.
“The Hmong, and other minority Christian and Animist religious believers, are being driven of their lands and killed and persecuted by corrupt Communist party officials and the military elite in Vietnam and Laos,” Lee said.
The Vietnam government generally prohibits foreign journalists from traveling freely outside of Hanoi as a rule and following the unrest, the province was completely sealed off by Vietnamese. Nga blamed poor weather and said the road to the affected district of Muong Nhe is "very bad" in denying AFP's request to visit the region. She said, anyway, folks were too busy preparing for the May 7 commemoration of Vietnam's victory over French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. And some may be, but it appears equally likely that many Hmong, as they have in the past, may be preparing for a hasty escape as refugees from their own villages.