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Vietnam accuses Montagnards of attempting secession

Two foreign Montagnard support groups designated as 'terrorists,' its members warned of punishment under law
Indochinese Montagnards demonstrate at Freedom Plaza in Washington on June 21, 2005. The indigenous people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia protested Vietnam's alleged human rights abuses against them.

Indochinese Montagnards demonstrate at Freedom Plaza in Washington on June 21, 2005. The indigenous people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia protested Vietnam's alleged human rights abuses against them. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 07, 2024 10:28 AM GMT
Updated: March 07, 2024 10:58 AM GMT

Vietnam has accused two foreign-based organizations of attempting secession in the central highlands after 100 people were convicted on terrorism-related charges following attacks last year on a remote police station there that left nine people dead.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security has also designated the United States-based Montagnard Support Group, Inc. (MSGI) and the Thai-based Montagnard Stand for Justice (MSFJ) as terrorist groups, warning its members will be punished under the law.

Members of these organizations, the ministry said, who propagate and incite others to join, finance and receive funding, attend training courses, and act under the direction of MSGI and MSFJ, are committing the crime of “terrorism” or “financing terrorism.”

The MSGI, established in 2011 by Y Mut Mlo and Y Duen Bdap “employs violent methods, including recruiting members in Vietnam, training them for violent activities, and inciting protests and armed rebels,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the Vietnam News Agency.

“It provides them with financial support, weapons, and equipment to carry out terrorist attacks, assassinations of officials and civilians, and destruction of state and civilian property to demand secession, autonomy, and the establishment of a ‘Degar State’ in the Central Highlands.”

Dega people are considered a part of the Montagnard hill tribe community who fought alongside the US and allied troops during the Vietnam War and have converted to Christianity.

The MSFJ, founded in Thailand in July 2019 has been active in the US since April 2023 and “engages in propaganda, recruitment, training, and financing of terrorist activities, ultimately aiming to establish a ‘separate state’ in the Central Highlands,” the ministry said.

In January, the People’s Court of Dak Lak heard that on June 11 two groups of armed people attacked the headquarters of the People's Committees of Ea Tieu and Ea Ktur communes, including communal police offices, in Cu Kuin district, killing nine and injuring two.

Among the dead were four police officers, two commune officials and three local people. Another two police officers sustained serious injuries. Police confiscated 23 handguns and rifles, two hand grenades, more than a thousand rounds of ammunition and explosives.

The court also ruled that most of the defendants had committed their crimes due to a “lack of understanding” and this was blamed on “US-based reactionary groups” for attempting to lure, threaten or force them into launching the attacks.

However, sources outside of Vietnam said at the time of the attacks the Christian Dega were protesting repressive tactics by local authorities which included the destruction of a church.

A crackdown followed and the situation escalated.

The North Carolina-based Dega Central Highlands Organization has claimed Montagnard people had little choice but to demand their rights and interests, “as they could not bear further suffering.”

“They are suppressed, beaten, arrested and cornered daily,” it added.

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