Hundreds of Vietnam Hmong in hiding: resident

Dien Bien province, Vietnam - The rare account on Friday of the situation in Dien Bien province, which authorities have sealed from foreign reporters, contradicted government statements that normality has returned and people have gone home.

"We... say it's not normal," said the resident, who cannot be further identified and whose account could not be independently verified.

Hmong from across the country converged on the region three weeks ago.

The government said extremists used the gathering to advocate for a Hmong kingdom but the resident said he was unaware of such talk.

Starting in late April about 10,000 northern Hmong gathered in Dien Bien's Muong Nhe district, but some came from as far away as the Central Highlands, the resident added.

They were lured by American radio broadcasts which said Jesus would return on May 21.

The army and police later told the crowd to disperse, which most did, but more than 100 alleged "leaders" were arrested and about 500 or 600 men fled to the forest, he said.

Hmong believe some of the troops came from the capital Hanoi, but residents did not fight them and there are no confirmed reports of casualties, he added.

The runaways are believed still to be hiding in the forest, the resident said. "They are afraid that the authorities may arrest them," he explained.

Their families are staying in local villages, and many are still awaiting Christ's return on Saturday, the resident added.

Doan Trung Tin, who leads the nationwide Vietnam Good News Mission Church, told AFP on Thursday that about 60 families from his church in the Central Highlands travelled to the Hmong gathering, lured in part in part by a document that spoke about the coming of Christ on May 21.

"I think the Christian Hmong, they try to wait in Dien Bien until May 21," Tin said.

The British-based religious freedom group, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said it assumes that many Hmong who had come from other parts of the country "are still there" in Dien Bien.

Soldiers told people that troops would stay in the area until the end of May, the resident said.

The government has made no mention of military involvement.