Vietnam tightens security in restive province

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam's ruling Communist Party has begun tightening security in its volatile Central Highlands, sending senior officials to reinforce party cells and committees in communes at one highland province, state media said on Monday.

"Their duty is to join the leadership with local officials in all life aspects in order to develop the socio-economy and stabilise the security and national defence at the local level," the Tien Phong (Vanguard) paper said.

Officials were not immediately available for comment.

Vietnam's Central Highlands region saw its worst protests over land rights and religious freedom in February 2001, after which more than 1,000 hilltribe people fled alleged government crackdowns to Cambodia and stayed on in camps there.

The newspaper said 34 young party members, now managers and deputies at the highland province of Gia Lai's various provincial departments, went out on Monday to work in party cells and people's committees in 34 communes for at least two years.

Tien Phong said the 34 officials would each get an extra sum of cash of one million dong ($66) and a monthly allowance of 400,000 dong ($26) during their mission, apart from the salary.

It was not immediately clear where a similar exercise was taking place in another three central highland provinces.

In January the Communist Party resolved that more senior officials would be sent to the Central Highlands, including police and military personnel, partly aimed at reinforcing areas which had "a pressing demand".

Following the exodus of members of the ethnic hill tribes from Vietnam, some had returned home while several dozen others resettled in the United States amid protests from Hanoi.

On Saturday, Cambodian authorities began moving 905 ethnic minority hilltribe people from the country's northeastern camps to Phnom Penh, where they would await U.S. and U.N preparations for their departure for the United States.

Washington, with past links to the anti-Communist hilltribes who fought alongside U.S. forces in Indochina during the Vietnam War, reached a pact with Cambodia in March to resettle the refugees.