Vietnam has deployed troops to contain a rare mass protest by ethnic
Hmong people that is testing the government’s tolerance of minority
Christians, just weeks after human rights activists accused leaders of
persecuting another hill tribe. As many as 7,000 Hmong people began to
gather several days ago in the far-flung mountains of Dien Bien
Province, near the northwestern border with Laos and China, apparently
for religious reasons although some were advocating an independent
kingdom, according to diplomatic, government and other sources.
The unrest was unlikely to pose a threat to the government but the
demonstration is the biggest involving ethnic minorities since unrest in
the Central Highlands region in 2001 and 2004. Details were scant from
the hard-to-access region but a Catholic priest close to the area cited
followers as saying troops had been deployed and the protesters had
detained at least one government official sent to negotiate.
Vietnam’s northwest is home to various hill tribes and stubborn
pockets of deep poverty in a country that has emerged from the hangover
of war with a fast-growing middle class and a dynamic, factory-driven
“They probably have a hard time seeing their way out of (poverty),”
Daniel Mont, senior poverty specialist with the World Bank, said of
people in the region. He added that parts of the northwest were so
remote they had never been fully integrated and many minority people
spoke little Vietnamese.
The Hmong are originally from southern China. Many of them migrated
over many years to mountainous parts of Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and
Thailand. Their culture, which includes belief in shamans and animal
sacrifice, contrasts with modern Vietnam, which began allowing religious
practice in the early 1990s. While officially atheist, most of
Vietnam’s 87 million people are Buddhist by tradition.