WORDS FROM KOK KSOR PRESIDENT OF THE MONTAGNARD FOUNDATION, INC.
Response to ongoing Vietnamese allegations that the Degar Christian Church wants to overthrow the Vietnamese government or seek independence. 29 April 2007
The Degar Church and its people who have been commonly known under the French colonial term “Montagnard” state clearly that they do not wish to overthrow the Vietnamese government and nor do they seek to establish an independent state. We reiterate that even if we so desired such it is impossible for a population of less than a million and without armed forces to overthrow a government with a population of over 80 million who has also hundreds of thousands of fully armed soldiers at its command. We state the Degar people who are house church Christians, traditional animists or Catholics living throughout the Central Highland region are indigenous tribal people and we cannot understand how anyone could believe such allegations perpetrated by the Vietnamese authoritarian government.
We the Degar people wants to make it clear to the international community that we do not hate ethnic Vietnamese people for who they are and nor do we want them to withdraw from our ancestral homelands because they are different race from ours. We also note that before the French left Indochina in 1954, our tribal leaders were asked if we wanted to live separately, or do we want to live with the Vietnamese people. Our leaders then decided to live with the Vietnamese people and we note the following quotes from official 1950 documents of Emperor Bao Dai which states, “Pursuant to the wishes expressed by the representatives of the Montagnard populations on May 26, 1950 in Kontum, on June 5, 1950 in Pleiku, on June 10, 1950 in Darlac, on June 26, 1950 in Haut Donnai.” These words here show that our leaders wished to live with the Vietnamese people.
However, the problem today is that the Vietnamese government is not respecting our human rights and this is resulting in ethnic discord between our peoples. The US State Department in its latest Human Rights report of March 6, 2007 on Vietnam reported that, “longstanding societal discrimination against ethnic minorities remained a problem”. In fact the Degar Montagnard people have experienced so much historical discrimination it appears that the Vietnamese are not interested in living peacefully with us. Our people report extensive racism and feel as outcasts and that they are despised because they adopted Christianity, which is considered by many Vietnamese to be an American or western institution. Security police and officials also hate our people because we sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and it appears they want to exterminate our race so that can possess our ancestral homelands, evident by the massive coffee plantations throughout the entire region. Our people feel the Vietnamese government has no real desire to live together in peace as one people and one nation. Sadly, this is what the Degar people inside Vietnam report to us.
During the Vietnam War, both the North and South Vietnamese governments partook in abuse and killing of our people, taking advantage of the war to slaughter us and confiscate our ancestral lands. This was not completely carried out then, thankfully due to the presence of the US Special Forces who assisted our people in defending themselves. There have been estimates from our elders years ago who said our population during French colonialism was around 3.5 million. According to the anthropologist Dr. Gerald C. Hickey in the 1960′s our population was somewhere around 1.5 million and according to one report from our people in 1992 our population was as low as 600 or 700 thousand. Dr. Hickey also reported that during the Vietnam War over 200,000 of our people were killed and 85% of our villages were destroyed.
At the present time, the United States and Vietnam are friends, allies and partners in trade so there is no reason for the Vietnamese government to look at our people as an enemy. Likewise the US government should never condone or tolerate abuses committed by an ally against a former ally.
The Degar people did not create the Vietnam War and most of our people had no idea why this war came to their villages or what it was about. It is fact however, that hundreds of thousands of our people died in this war. This was because our people believed the United States would help our people regain their autonomy with Vietnam. But the war ended differently than expected and unfortunately history has shown that the more we live with the Vietnamese, the more they hurt us. The more we want to obey their laws, the crueler we are treated and it appears no matter what our people do, the Vietnamese authorities through corruption, discrimination and authoritarian abuse always find some way to repress us in order to have possession of our homelands. The economic exploitation and mismanagement of the central highlands by Vietnam is thus destroying our people and the US State Department’s Human Rights report on Vietnam of March 6, 2007 also reported that government resettlement programs “also had the effect of making more land available to ethnic Vietnamese migrants and state owned plantations.” There is also news of the large scale development project planned for the large “Triangle” region of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that worries us deeply and we suggest this economic exploitation and government resettlement programs amount to nothing less than “ethnic cleansing”.
Today we only ask the Vietnamese authorities respect our basic human rights and they have responded by using authoritarian brutality, accusing our people of being terrorists, separatists and wanting to overthrow their government. We just asked them to stop arresting, torturing, killing and imprisoning our people and instead of solving the problem the government and security forces continue with outdated rhetoric that our people are CIA agents sent to destroy their national security. When our refugees fled to Cambodia to escape persecution, the Vietnamese government solicited cooperation with their Cambodian partners and accused us of crossing the border illegally. Our people were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and many were murdered by the Vietnamese and Cambodian security police who continue to this day to forcibly return Degar refugees back to Vietnam. It is a racist and discriminatory policy, given that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese today cross the border into Cambodia and openly work in cities like Phnom Penh without anyone even questioning them.
It seems to us that the Vietnamese government’s plan is to isolate the Degar people in their villages, surround them with security police and soldiers and then accuse them of committing crimes, even kill them one by one. We note that the US State Department in its Human Rights report of March 6, 2007 reported that, “the government continued to impose extra security measures in the central highlands” and our people report today that many of their villages are surrounded by soldiers who threaten and harass them.
Since most of the Degar people are Christians, our people do not hate the Vietnamese people or the Vietnamese government because the Bible teaches us to love our neighbor like we love ourselves and to respect all people. The origin of the problem facing our race has been caused by the Vietnamese government who since 1975 appears to be enacting a policy of creeping genocide towards our people. Unfortunately many countries in the world have also been aiding Vietnam (some inadvertently and intentionally) to accomplish this mission of ethnic, religious and economic persecution against our indigenous people.
The Degar people are faced with persecution much like the Native North and South American Indians – and Australian Aboriginals suffered some 200 years ago. We hereby appeal to the international community and governments of the world to stop aiding the government of Vietnam unless such aid is linked to concrete human rights progression in the country and that Vietnam respects the Degar peoples’s human, civil and political rights and that they respect our indigenous land rights and religious freedom according to international accepted principles and the rule of law.
President of the Montagnard Foundation, Inc