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Vietnamese police threaten Montagnard refugees in Thailand

Asylum seekers claim officers who quizzed them were brought to their location by Thai police
Activists hold banners during a demonstration against alleged human rights abuses against the Montagnard community by the Vietnamese government in front of the White House in Washington on July 10, 2023.

Activists hold banners during a demonstration against alleged human rights abuses against the Montagnard community by the Vietnamese government in front of the White House in Washington on July 10, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 18, 2024 09:44 AM GMT
Updated: March 18, 2024 10:23 AM GMT

Montagnard asylum-seekers in Thailand have expressed fear and concern, claiming Vietnamese police officials visited them and urged them to return to their country and threatened them with arrests if they failed to comply.

Eight plainclothes officers from Vietnam visited the Montagnards living in Bang Len district of Nakhon Pathom province on March 14 urging them to return, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on March 15.

The officers were from the homeland security forces in Dak Lak province and from the Gia Lai provincial police, an unnamed refugee told RFA.

“They tried to persuade the Montagnards saying they would take care of their transportation, food, and accommodation expenses,” he said.

The term “Montagnard” was coined by French colonialists to describe tribal groups who live in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, many of whom are Christians, but Vietnam has rejected the use of the term.

The unnamed refugee pointed out that they “would die,” if they were to return to Vietnam.

“We would never be safe. What the Vietnamese [authorities] want is to imprison us,” the unnamed refugee said.

The Vietnamese officers were brought to them by Thai police, the unnamed refugee said, adding that other Vietnamese officials took photos and videos with smartphones and camcorders.

The Vietnamese officials inquired about the whereabouts of Y Quynh Bdap and other wanted Montagnards and showed them images and arrest warrants issued for them.

Bdap is the co-founder of Montagnard Stand for Justice and has been accused of being associated with the Dak Lak attacks.

He was later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on a terrorism charge at a trial held in Vietnam this January. He has denied participating in the attack.

Earlier, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security had designated Montagnard Stand for Justice and the Montagnard Support Group as terrorist organizations linked to the 2023 Dak Lak attacks, RFA reported.

In January 2024, the People’s Court of Dak Lak heard that on June 11, 2023, 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.

The location where the attacks took place is home to about 30 indigenous tribes who have a long history of conflict with the Vietnamese majority, and who claim they have been discriminated against.

In January, 100 individuals were tried in the case, and 10 were sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges, RFA reported.

The remaining accused were handed sentences ranging from three and a half years to 20 years in jail, mostly on terrorism-related charges. Vietnamese lawyers had criticized the court proceedings as a hasty show trial.

Colonel Adisak Kamnerd of the Bang Len police said that he had not received requests from any agency to allow Vietnamese officers to go and meet the Montagnard refugees, RFA reported.

The incident of another country’s police officials questioning refugees without permission from local authorities was the first such incident in Thailand, an unnamed police official told Benar News, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The “undiplomatic,” move was a violation of the refugees’ basic privacy rights.

“I believe they were coming after the suspects in the Dak Lak attacks,” the unnamed official said.

The incident reportedly occurred one day after Vietnam’s government-run People's Police Newspaper had reported that Minister of Public Security To Lam had met with the Thai ambassador to Vietnam Nikorndej Balankura.

During the meeting, Lam on behalf of the Vietnamese government had proposed that the two sides sign an agreement on extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, RFA reported.

The UN’s refugee agency in Bangkok and Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not responded to email queries on the incident at the time of publishing the report, RFA said.

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