Vietnam accused of brutal religious repression

GENEVA (Reuters) - Vietnamese dissidents in exile accused Hanoi on Friday of brutally repressing Christians and Buddhists, alleging hill tribe people were attacked and tortured to death after recent protests in the Central Highlands.

The U.S.-based Montagnard Foundation, which represents the ethnic people who fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, urged the international community to reconsider trading with or giving aid to the Communist government.

The allegations by Kok Ksor, executive director of the South Carolina-based group, came as Vietnam's official media accused the United States of encouraging the February riots, the biggest in years. Vietnam has already charged Kok Ksor, a founding member of the wartime FULRO group, with fomenting the unrest.

Kok Ksor told a briefing in Geneva on the sidelines of the annual U.N. Commission on Human Rights that his people were executed, arrested and jailed under growing persecution.

Three members survived being crucified by Vietnamese authorities in December while a Montagnard Christian named Y-Jan Eban was tortured to death by electric prods in March, he said.

"Right now in the Central Highlands of Vietnam there are armed soldiers and tanks patrolling our villages all the way from Kontum to Dalat. Helicopters are buzzing our villages and the entire Central Highlands, our ancestral homelands, are under martial law," Kok Ksor said.

"In the last eight weeks hundreds of our people have been attacked, arrested, beaten and tortured with electric prods by Vietnamese authorities," the exiled dissident added. "Some of our people have died from torture already."

Kok Ksor alleged that Vietnamese authorities wanted to "eliminate our race not only because we were allied with the Americans but because our homelands have vast forests and natural resources which they now want to exploit".

He added: "I plead to the international community to protect our race and put an end to the last 26 years of genocidal practices. Further I ask the international community to consider whether they should trade or give aid money to Vietnam which continues to brutally violate an indigenous race of people."


Vo Van Ai, president of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, said that the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Buddhist Hoa Hao, Catholic Church, and Protestants of the Central Highlands were all repressed.

"The year 2001 looks to be a black year for religions in Vietnam," Vo said in a speech to the annual U.N. rights session. "The government is betting on a policy of putting these religions in quarantine in order to smother them slowly."

UBCV, banned since 1981, "remains the principal target of persecutions" and Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang has been detained in his pagoda without trial for 20 years, according to Vo.

Dissident Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, deputy head of the UBCV who visited the Patriarch in February, launched "an appeal for democracy" two weeks ago, Vo said.

The appeal, which comes ahead of a congress of the ruling Communist Party due to start on April 19, has been endorsed by 36 members of the U.S. Congress, 70 members of the European Parliament and 308,027 Vietnamese emigres, Vo added.

In a letter to the U.N. rights forum, U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California and other members of Congress called on its 53 member states to endorse the democracy appea