ROME, JUNE 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- 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.