Vietnamese police track down Montagnards in Thailand

RFA Vietnamese
2024.03.15
Vietnamese police track down Montagnards in Thailand Maj. Gen. Rah Lan Lam, director of the Gia Lai Provincial Police (holding a mobile phone) and Police Lt. Col. Y Luong Nie (at right in white shirt) speak with Montagnards in Bang Len district, Nakhon Pathom province, Thailand, March 14, 2023.
Y Quynh Bdap

Police from Vietnam’s Dak Lak province made unexpected visits to two areas in Thailand where ethnic minorities are seeking refugee status on grounds that they have been persecuted, they told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews. 

Members of the Montagnard community said they panicked when the agents visited their homes on Thursday to persuade and threaten them to return to Vietnam. The term “Montagnard” was coined by French colonialists to describe tribes who live in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, many of whom are Christians, but Vietnam has rejected use of the term.

Police also searched for those wanted the June 2023 armed attacks on two People’s Commune headquarters in Dak Lak province in the Central Highlands that left nine people dead, the refugees said.

The area 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 sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges. The remainder were handed sentences ranging from 3½ to 20 years, mostly on terrorism-related charges. Vietnamese lawyers criticized it as a hasty show trial. 

Montagnards living in Bang Len district Nakhon Pathom province, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Thai capital Bangkok, said Thai police brought the Vietnamese police officers to their homes. 

Thai police officers asked the Montagnards to gather in a front yard where two of eight  Vietnamese officers dressed in plainclothes questioned them, one of the refugees told RFA on Friday.

Not convinced

The two officers gave their names and said they were from the homeland security force in Dak Lak province and from the Gia Lai provincial police, while the other officers took photos and videos with smartphones and camcorders, the refugee said.

They tried to persuade the refugees to return to Vietnam, saying they would take care of their transportation, food and accommodation expenses, he said.

“Once you return to Vietnam, we’ll take care of everything,” the refugee said, recounting the officers’ words.

But he was skeptical.

“If we returned to Vietnam, we would die,” he said “We would never be safe. What the Vietnamese [authorities] want is to imprison us.”

Dinh Ngan, an ethnic Bana refugee, said the director of the Gia Lai provincial police said he would be their “guardian” if they wanted to return. Otherwise, the director said the police would arrest them or they would face difficulties.

Another refugee, Nay Phot, said the director told Montagnards to return to Vietnam and that the government would be lenient toward them and provide them with land and vehicles.

“They threatened that if we didn’t come back, the police would have to arrest us, and then the government would no longer forgive us,” he said.

In a statement posted nine days ago, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security branded Montagnard Stands for Justice and the Montagnard Support Group as terrorist organizations linked to 2023 Dak Lak attacks.

Asking about others

The refugee, who requested anonymity for fear of his safety, said the two officers asked him and others about the whereabouts of Y Quynh Bdap and other wanted Montagnards, showing them their images and warrants for their arrest on their cellphones.

Y Quynh Bdap, co-founder of Montagnard Stands for Justice, was accused of being associated with Dak Lak attacks and later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on a terrorism charge during a January trial in Vietnam. He has denied participating in the attack.

Police Col. Adisak Kamnerd of the Bang Len police told RFA that he had not received any requests from any agency to allow Vietnamese officers to go there.

Another security official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told BenarNews that this was the first known incident whereby Vietnamese police questioned Vietnamese refugees in Thailand, violating their basic privacy rights. He also called the action “undiplomatic.”

“I believe they are coming after the suspects in the Dak Lak attacks,” he said.

The incident occurred one day after the Public Security Online Newspaper reported that Minister of Public Security To Lam met with Thai Ambassador to Vietnam Nikorndej Balankura. During the meeting, Lam proposed that the two sides sign an agreement on extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.

RFA did not receive a response to an email sent to the U.N. refugee agency in Bangkok.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an emailed request for information.

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