Vietnam to send extra police to troubled highlands

HANOI - Vietnam's public security minister plans to send extra police to a province in the volatile Central Highlands, where members of minority hill tribes staged protests over land and religious rights in February and March.

The official Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper quoted Le Minh Huong on Tuesday as saying after an inspection tour that the police were needed in Kontum province as reinforcements, but gave no reason for the move.

Huong urged the local police force to do a better job to solve "problems at grass-roots level" and prevent "sudden situations and hot spots in rural areas."

Large numbers of minority hill people protested over land and religious rights in highland provinces in February and March in the worst unrest to hit communist Vietnam in years.

The rattled authorities sent in large numbers of police and troops to restore order.

The paper said Huong was told in Daklak and Gia Lai provinces that local authorities had stabilised the situation and defused "plots and activities of extremists who took advantages of religion and ethnic minority issues to cause disturbances."

Former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Douglas "Pete" Peterson, who left Vietnam on Sunday, gave a mixed report last week after making a fact-finding tour of the highlands.

He said the provinces of Lam Dong and Daklak were "clearly focused" on finding solutions to problems caused by large-scale migration into ethnic minority areas and economic, social and political marginalisation of indigenous people.

He added that Gia Lai was following a "misguided" policy of focusing on security rather than such problems.

Hundreds of minority people fled the crackdown to Cambodia and 38 were permitted to resettle in the United States, a decision that angered Hanoi. Around 400 remain in Cambodia.

Hanoi has said they would not be punished if they returned under a U.N. voluntary repatriation plan, but U.S.-based activists who visited Cambodia on a fact-finding mission last week said they should not be sent back due to safety concerns.

State media earlier this week quoted Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as telling a government meeting in Daklak province last week that more farm land and investment for ethnic minorities should be provided in the highlands.

03:51 07-17-01

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