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My people suffered terribly under the Vietnamese communist regime. They came and took our land, and made it theirs. They try to erase our language and force us to speak Vietnamese. They have taken our fertile land and forced us to the bad land. They say they have come to build progress for my people, but they have come to kill, arrest, and oppress my people.

-FULRO commander before surrendering to U.N. forces in Cambodia, in a 1992 interview with the Phnom Penh Post

The twentieth century in the Central Highlands was a period of increasing migration of ethnic Vietnamese, or Kinh, into highland areas. The political situation in the region today has been decisively shaped by that demographic trend.

Today, the population of the Central Highlands provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Lam Dong and Kontum, is approximately four million, of whom approximately one-quarter are indigenous highlanders.4 Among the highlanders, between 229,000 to 400,000 are thought to follow evangelical Protestantism. Indigenous minority groups in both the central and northern highlands are often generically referred to as Montagnards, a French term meaning "mountain dwellers."5 The indigenous minorities of the Central Highlands comprise more than half a dozen different ethnic groups, primarily from two language families: the Jarai (320,000), Ede (or Rhade, 258,000), Bahnar (181,000), Stieng (66,000), Koho (122,000), and Mnong (Bnong, or Pnong, 89,000).6 Many of the politicized highlanders in the Central Highlands and refugees from there in the U.S. today increasingly refer to themselves as Dega. For them, Dega is a term not only of cultural pride but one that connotes the particular type of evangelical Christianity they practice and the name of the independent homeland they seek. The term "Dega" is also used by Vietnamese governmental authorities in a derogatory sense, as a synonym for rebels.

Most highlanders are farmers who traditionally practiced a form of shifting cultivation called rotational swiddening, in which new fields are cleared, cultivated for several years and then allowed to lie fallow for ten to twenty years before being brought back into cultivation.7 As a general rule under the traditional farming systems, for each hectare of farmland currently under cultivation, another five (for relatively rich soils) to fifteen hectares must be kept fallow and held in reserve.8 Despite appearances, these forest fallows are not vacant wasteland available for others to use, but an integral part of the swidden farming system, with former fallows put back into cultivation after their fertility has been restored. While pejoratively referred to as "slash and burn" agriculture, shifting cultivation can be a sustainable farming system in areas with relatively low population densities.9

The influx of settlers to the Central Highlands has increasingly fueled conflict and competition over scarce farmland, making traditional agricultural practices more difficult. With less land to farm, fallowing periods are shorter, which means fallowed plots are put back into cultivation before the soil has become fertile again. As customary forms of agriculture become virtually impossible, highlanders find it much more difficult to make a living. Turning to cash crops such as coffee can supplement family income even on small plots of a hectare or less. This can be risky, however, because of market factors (the global plummet in coffee sales had a drastic effect) and because many highlanders lack official title to their land, making it liable to confiscation by the state or companies. In other cases, highlanders who have gained land use certificates to small plots of land end up selling their land because they lack the capital and labor to work it profitably.10

Customary Lands

Often referred to as nomads, very few highlanders are in fact even quasi-nomadic. While they may rotate their swidden plots every three to five years within prescribed village boundaries, the settlements themselves rarely move unless forced to do so by warfare, disease, or political developments. Instead most highlanders have traditionally lived in fixed village sites, rotating their swidden plots within an area that is often clearly defined by village elders.11

The customary lands of the indigenous minorities included paddy rice fields, swidden plots, graveyards, and house sites. Traditionally these lands were considered family property and inherited through the female line.12 Families held customary user rights to their swidden plots whether they were being farmed or fallowed. Collective village lands included streams, grazing pastures, and drinking water sources. Special care was taken to preserve nearby forests upon which the indigenous populations depended for collection of "non-timber" products such as rattan, bamboo, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and medicinal

herbs.13 Village boundaries were recognized and allocated by village elders, guardians of the villages' collective memory.14

The Dega People-An Oral History

Since God gave birth to the world, we ethnic minorities have always been in the same place. Since antiquity, our ancestors have always told us that this is our land. The Vietnamese never lived here. What we learned from our grandparents is that Vietnam started invading our land in 1930. In that year, the French started working in Dak Lak, and five Vietnamese went to work with them as cooks and helpers.

From the time the French left in 1954, bit by bit the Vietnamese increased their presence until they were all over the place. In 1958 because the Vietnamese were getting stronger and stronger in the Central Highlands all the ethnic minorities-Ede, Koho, Jarai, Stieng and Bahnar-stood up to make the first demonstration. All the ethnic minorities had one idea: we wanted our land back. At that time the Vietnamese promised to give us our land back so there would be no conflicts. They were not speaking the truth. Instead they put our leader, Y Bham Enuol, in jail in Hue for seven years.

In 1965 when they let Y Bham out of jail the ethnic minorities started the FULRO movement. It was based here in Mondolkiri [Cambodia], right near the spot where we are sitting today. I was twelve years old and carried a gun that was as long as me. Everyone, young and old, joined the struggle.

Later, in 1969, Nguyen Van Thieu, the president of South Vietnam, promised in the "O33" agreement to give us our land back. Y Bham would be in charge of the Central Highlands and the Vietnamese would go back to Vietnam. Instead, Vietnam received

foreign aid and used the Dega to fight against North Vietnam. Thousands of us were killed.

In 1975 the [North] Vietnamese put our leader Nay Luett in prison for ten years. Vietnamese from both the north and the south took Dega labor to plant rubber and coffee. When the harvest came, they sent it to the lowlands. They used all sorts of tricks to destroy the ethnic minorities and take our land. Many Dega were sent to prison.

Beginning in 1980 they started turning all the land over to the Vietnamese. Each day more and more Vietnamese arrived, by the truckload. Especially since 1975, the Montagnards and the Vietnamese have not been happy together. We conducted a struggle in the forest [FULRO] to oppose them for many years. The life of Vietnamese and Montagnards together is like dogs biting each other; never easy.

In 1988 the ethnic minorities started to become Christians. We'd been Christians for a long time before that but it was in 1988 when all the ethnic minorities believed; everywhere. Jesus changed our idea [from armed to peaceful struggle]. If we didn't have Christianity and the holy spirit within us, we would use violence to oppose the Vietnamese and we would all be dead.

-Mnong man, from Dak Lak, July 2001

Promises of Autonomy: The French

Resistance to Vietnamese central authority is not new among ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands. Highland ethnic groups sought and obtained pledges of autonomy not only from the French colonial government but also from both the North and the South Vietnamese governments during the Second Indochina War. While the various promises that these governments made to create such a zone were largely token gestures to gain the loyalty of the Montagnards, the idea garnered enthusiastic support among indigenous inhabitants of the highlands, who long felt persecuted, exploited, and alienated from the central government.

Much of the current debate over the highlanders' struggle for independence centers around the question of the legitimacy of Vietnam's sovereignty over the Central Highlands. This raises two questions-prior to French colonial rule, did Vietnam maintain political and administrative control over the Central Highlands, or did the highland groups exist as an independent state or states? Anthropologist Oscar Salemink argues that in pre-colonial times, the indigenous groups of the Central Highlands had little political organization beyond the village

level. 15 However villages clearly made occasional alliances and maintained trade and political relations, according to Salemink, not only with other highland groups but with lowland communities, and not only in present-day lowland Vietnam, but Cambodia as well. Salemink and other historians argue that Vietnam's loose administrative control and "nominal overlordship" over the Central Highlands dissolved in the late 1800s with the increased French role in the region and encroachment from Siam. The French assumed official control over the Central Highlands in 1893.16

Present-day claims by highlanders in Vietnam and abroad that both the French colonial administration and Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai granted autonomous status to the Montagnards of the Central Highlands appear to be largely based on two documents. The first is a Federal Ordinance enacted in 1946 by the French colonial government in Vietnam, which created a special administrative commissariat for the highland populations (les populations Montagnardes) of South Indochina, separate from the Republic for South Annam.17 This took place at a time of deteriorating relations between France and Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh. In what some observers perceive was a cynical move to undermine the authority of Ho Chi Minh over all of Vietnam, the ordinance was enacted on May 27, 1946, three days before Ho Chi Minh left Vietnam for negotiations with the French in Paris.18

In July 1950, the French government issued an order establishing the Central Highlands as the Pays Montagnard du Sud (PMS) under the authority of Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai, who the French had installed as nominal chief of state in 1949 as an alternative to Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam.19 Terry Rambo notes:

In order to win support from the highlanders, the French employed a divide-and-rule strategy, establishing Muong and Thai autonomous zones in the northwestern mountains, and separating the Central Highlands from Vietnam under the guise of the Pays Montagnard du Sud [PMS], which was administered as a "crown domain" directly under Emperor Bao Dai.20

The second document often cited by Montagnard autonomy advocates is a 1951 edict signed by Emperor Bao Dai establishing special status for the indigenous minorities of the Central Highlands (referred to as "des Populations des Pays Montagnards du Sud," or PMS). Known as the statut particulier, the edict guaranteed the highlanders all the rights of Vietnamese citizens as well as the right to "free evolution of these populations in the respect of their traditions and of their customs." Highland chiefs, whether hereditary or selected by native populations, would retain their titles and decision-making powers and customary tribal law would be retained. Article 7 guaranteed that "The rights acquired by the natives over landed property are guaranteed them in entirety."21

Part of the controversy over these documents revolves around the translation of the French term "des Populations des Pays Montagnards du Sud." Montagnard independence advocates translate this as "the Montagnard Country of the South," whereas some academics translate it as the "mountainous lands of the South" or the "lands of the Montagnard people in the south."

Promises of Autonomy: Hanoi

The French were not the only ones to promise special status to the highlanders. With the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh in 1954, several thousand highlanders sympathetic to the Viet Minh went to North Vietnam as part of the Geneva agreements. Many of them attended the Southern Ethnic Minorities school at Gia Lam, near Hanoi.22 In January 1955 Ho Chi Minh announced plans for several autonomous zones to be set up in the Northern Highlands.

At the founding meeting in 1960 of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF), more commonly known by the pejorative term Viet Cong, its political platform included recognition of the right to autonomy of the national minorities. It called for the establishment of autonomous regions in minority areas and for the abolition of the "U.S.-Diêm clique's present policy of ill-treatment and forced assimilation of the minority nationalities."23 The amended constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam stated:

Autonomous zones may be established in areas where people of national minorities live in compact communities. Such autonomous zones are integral and inalienable parts of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.24

In the early 1960s the NLF sent agents to the Central Highlands to conduct propaganda and recruit highlanders. Minority-language broadcasts from Hanoi carried pledges of autonomy. During the mid-1960s minority leaders from the Central Highlands were regularly sent to visit autonomous zones in North Vietnam, with promises that autonomy would be granted to highlanders in the south when the country was liberated.25

The 1958 Bajaraka Movement

In 1955 the Central Highlands became part of the Republic of Vietnam, (South Vietnam). Trouble began to brew after President Ngô Dinh Diêm launched programs in 1956 to resettle ethnic Vietnamese to "land development centers" in the Central Highlands and assimilate the highlanders into mainstream Vietnamese society. In addition, thousands of ethnic minority refugees from the north were resettled in the Central Highlands as well.26

According to Hickey, the first "ethnonationalist" groupings in the Central Highlands started in 1955 in Buon Ale-A near Buon Ma Thuot, where the U.S.-based Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church was located and where several Montagnard resistance leaders, including Y Thih Eban and Y Bham Enuol, were born.27 In March 1955 the first group, a secret organization called Le Front pour la Liberation des Montagnards (the Montagnard Liberation Front), wrote to President Diêm with a list of demands, including the right of highlanders to fly their own flag.

In 1958, a highland resistance movement emerged called Bajaraka, an acronym for the four main Montagnard groups: Bahnar, Jarai, Rhade (or Ede) and Koho. In August of that year, Bajaraka leader Y Bham Enuol sent a letter to some of the main diplomatic missions in Saigon, outlining highlander grievances and their demands for autonomy, and requesting international intervention. There was no immediate response but in September 1958 two Bajaraka members were arrested north of Kontum, prompting Y Bham to send a letter to Diêm to resolve the problem. Instead, Y Bham and other Bajaraka leaders were arrested, including Y Thih Eban, Paul Nur, and Nay Luett. They were imprisoned in underground solitary cells in Dalat for three months.28

In a scenario reminiscent of the events of February 2001, one thousand highlanders signed a petition in 1958 requesting the release of the minority leaders and organized a demonstration attended by 2,000 people in Buon Ma Thuot, where a Bajaraka leader addressed the rally and outlined the highlanders' complaints. The government sent in armored units from the army's 23rd Division to break up the demonstration. According to Hickey, Diêm was incensed by the highlanders' call for autonomy, and immediately closed the Highlander Students' Section of the National Institute of Administration, relocated the Bureau for Highland Affairs from Dalat to Hue, and reassigned highlanders in the civil service from the highlands to posts in the lowlands. One hundred military officers were sent to Hue for reeducation and then reassigned to the lowlands. Montagnard army officers were ordered to take Vietnamese names and Montagnard traditional weapons such as crossbows were confiscated.29

In 1959 Y Bham Enuol and Paul Nur were released from prison. As soon as Enuol resumed his campaign for the Bajaraka movement he was quickly re-arrested and taken to police headquarters in Buon Ma Thuot, where he was reportedly tortured with electric shocks and imprisoned until early 1964.30

The Second Indochina War: 1960-1975

Much of the U.S. bombing campaign and many of the fiercest battles of the Second Indochina War, also known as the American War, were played out in the Central Highlands. The U.S. declared many parts of the Central Highlands as "free fire zones" targeted for aerial bombing raids and the use of chemical defoliants in order to smoke out North Vietnamese units, whose transportation corridors-the "Ho Chi Minh Trail"-passed through the northern part of the Central Highlands en route from Laos and Cambodia.31

Both the U.S. and the North Vietnamese tried to recruit the indigenous minorities to their side. Repression of the Bajaraka movement by the Diêm administration in the late 1950s had turned many highlanders towards the National Liberation Front (NLF). In 1961, minority NLF members led by former Bajaraka leaders such as Y Bih Aleo, who had escaped arrest by Diêm and gone underground, formed the NLF's Montagnard Autonomy Movement.32 U.S. counterinsurgency operations organized among indigenous minorities in the Central Highlands were in part a response to this.33

In the early 1960s, U.S. forces recruited highlanders for village defense units and reconnaissance teams to gather intelligence about North Vietnamese infiltration into the highlands and conduct propaganda in support of the Diêm regime.34

In 1961 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the "Village Defense" programs in Darlac (the former name of Dak Lak), followed by the "Mountain Scout" program (often called the Commando program). Highlanders were also trained by U.S. Special Forces Detachment A-35 to conduct paramilitary operations.35 Given the earlier Bajaraka uprising, the Diêm government was uneasy about the U.S. arming highlanders, particularly under the CIA's Village Defense Program, in which 18,000 Montagnards were eventually armed.36

After the overthrow of Diêm in a coup in November 1963, the government of Nguyen Khanh released some Bajaraka leaders from prison (including Y Bham Enuol in February 1964) and upgraded the Bureau of Highland Affairs to a Directorate of Highland Affairs under the Ministry of Defense.

During this time Bajaraka resistance leaders began to link up with similar ethnonationalist movements brewing in Cambodia among ethnic Cham and Khmer Krom,37 primarily through Lt. Col. Les Kosem, a Cambodian Cham and Col. Um Savuth, both officers in the Royal Khmer Army. In July 1964 the three groupings merged as the Front Unifié de Lutte des Race Opprimées (FULRO, or the United Struggle Front for the Oppressed Races).

The FULRO Rebellions: 1964-1965

FULRO first made a name for itself as a militant group in September 1964 when it organized a rebellion among 3,000 Montagnard combatants in five U.S. special forces camps in the Central Highlands: Buon Sar Pa, Bu Prang, Ban Don, Buon Mi Ga and Buon Brieng.38 Leaflets were distributed in Buon Ma Thuot on the first day of the rebellion, declaring that the Central Highlands had been invaded by "expansionist Vietnamese" following a "systematic genocidal policy." A number of Vietnamese special forces troops were killed and others taken hostage. After several days of negotiations between U.S. military advisors and the FULRO militants, and the deployment of Vietnamese military units near the camps, the rebels surrendered. Y Bham Enuol and approximately 2,000 FULRO followers fled across the border to Cambodia, where they established their headquarters near Camp Le Rolland (present-day Dak Dam) in Mondolkiri. Y Bham Enuol was to remain in Cambodia for most of the next decade.

After the revolt and at the urging of the Americans, the Nguyen Khanh government organized a conference of highland leaders in Pleiku in October 1964. Requests put forward by the highlanders included not only the institution of Bao Dai's statut particulier but economic development programs, reinstatement of customary highland law, use of minority languages in the schools, formation of a highland military force with its own flag, and Montagnard control over and administration of foreign aid to the highlands. Y Bham Enuol followed up on the demands in letters sent to the Khanh government as well as the U.S. Embassy, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Khanh reportedly agreed to many of the demands except for autonomy, highland control over foreign aid, and establishment of a highland military force.

Virtually none of the pledges were ever fulfilled however, in part because the Khanh government was overthrown in a coup in 1965. Political tensions rose again and in December 1965, a second FULRO uprising broke out, in which thirty-five Vietnamese, including civilians, were killed.39 The rebellion was put down in a day; four of the FULRO leaders were condemned to death and publicly executed, and fifteen others were imprisoned.40

Easing of Tensions in the mid-1960s

Relations between FULRO and the South Vietnamese government appeared to improve for a while under the government of Nguyen Cao Ky, who replaced Khanh after the 1965 coup. The government established a Directorate-General for Development of Ethnic Minorities, appointed Paul Nur, an ethnic Bahnar, as a cabinet member, and approved legislation entitling highlanders to own land.41 Six highlanders, including a FULRO member, were elected to the National Assembly. FULRO forces in Cambodia began negotiations with the government about their return to Vietnam.

While 250 FULRO forces agreed to return in October 1966, Y Bham Enuol-who continued to insist on regional autonomy and an armed highlander force-was not among them. In 1968 Y Bham Enuol briefly returned to Buon Ma Thuot at the government's request to conduct negotiations over FULRO's possible return to Vietnam. An agreement reached in December 1968 specified that the highlanders could form their own political party and fly their own flag. Y Bham Enuol dropped some of his earlier demands, such as the right of highlanders to directly receive foreign aid.

In January 1969 more than 1,300 FULRO soldiers and their families rallied to the South Vietnamese government and left Mondolkiri. They were welcomed at an official ceremony in Buon Ma Thuot.42 Y Bham Enuol, however, did not return with them. Several Cambodian army battalions surrounded the FULRO headquarters in Mondolkiri and escorted Enuol to Phnom Penh, where he was kept under virtual house arrest by Les Kosem and Um Savuth, who wanted to prevent him from leaving and cutting a deal with the Vietnamese government.43 In Vietnam a less militant FULRO faction, led by Y D'he announced that FULRO was being formally dissolved and replaced with a highlander political party, the Ethnic Minorities Solidarity Movement, which advocated peaceful accommodation with the South Vietnamese government.44

In 1971 Nay Luett, an ethnic Jarai, was appointed as minister for ethnic minority development. He and colleagues such as Pierre K'Bruih worked to make the ministry a center for ethnonationalism, Hickey said, "where mountain country leaders gathered and participated in planning."45 However as the war escalated in Vietnam, the struggle for minority rights was overshadowed by the highlanders' need for simple survival. Hickey estimates that at least 200,000 highlanders were killed during the Second Indochina War, and more than 85 percent of the population forced from their villages and displaced as refugees. The government relocated thousands of highlanders from their customary lands, moving them to "strategic hamlets" or regrouping them along major roads for defense purposes.

On March 10, 1975 North Vietnamese forces occupied Buon Ma Thuot in the final offensive of the war; a FULRO faction that supported the NLF agreed not to alert Saigon that North Vietnamese tanks were approaching.46 In April 1975, a pro-U.S. FULRO group reportedly negotiated an arrangement with U.S. officials to continue guerrilla warfare against the Hanoi regime after the North Vietnamese victory. According to former FULRO members, although the U.S. reneged on promises of covert support, the group continued fighting until 1992.47

When the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Y Bham Enuol and other FULRO leaders living in Phnom Penh sought refuge in the French Embassy. They were all taken out by the Khmer Rouge and executed. Many of Enuol's most ardent followers, guerilla soldiers in the forests of Mondolkiri, were not to learn of his death for seventeen years.

The Highlands After 1975

With the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, Viet Minh pledges of autonomy never materialized. Instead, government officials launched programs to settle ethnic Vietnamese in New Economic Zones in the highlands while aiming to relocate highlanders to the valleys to grow rice and industrial crops, rather than continuing their "unstable nomadic life" in the highlands.48 Those who had worked with U.S. Special Forces or FULRO were sent to re-education camps. Hickey described the post-war situation:

Peace, however, did not return to the highlands. It soon became apparent that the oft-promised autonomy for the highlanders was only a propaganda ploy. Worse still, Hanoi immediately began implementing plans to resettle large numbers of Vietnamese in upland "economic zones." There also were announcements in rhetoric reminiscent of the Diêm era about programs to settle the "nomadic" mountain people in "sedentary villages." At the same time all of the highland leaders from the ministry and those who had been active in provincial administrations and programs were captured and incarcerated either in jails or "reeducation camps." Those leaders who managed to elude captivity along with young highlanders from the Army, the Special Forces, and other paramilitary groups, fled into the forest where they organized a resistance movement.49

It was not long before FULRO forces, many of whom fled to the forests after the final defeat of South Vietnam, began to resurrect their guerilla movement. This time FULRO's resistance was directed against Hanoi. The re-emergence of the group was evident as early as the first session of the National Assembly in 1976, in which a parliamentarian referred to the use of "lackeys" by "imperialist" forces to conduct counter-revolutionary activities.50

By 1977 FULRO's primary supporters were the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, with whom they had formed an uneasy alliance. In 1977 the two groups signed an agreement for the exchange of information and training, and in 1978 a FULRO combatant denounced Ho Chi Minh over Radio Phnom Penh.51 Ieng Sary, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Khmer Rouge, said in 1979: "The FULRO approached us for cooperation to exchange intelligence, military experience and get guerrilla warfare training."52

By the early 1980s, FULRO forces numbered approximately 7,000. Forced to abandon their bases in Vietnam, they shifted their operation to Mondolkiri where they carried out small cross-border attacks against Vietnamese forces in the highlands. By 1986, however, the Khmer Rouge parted ways with FULRO and stopped supplying them with arms and provisions. "They had no political vision," a Khmer Rouge official said in a 1992 interview with the Phnom Penh Post. "Their fighters are very, very brave, but they had no support from any leadership, no food, and they did not understand at all the world around them."53

In 1986 several hundred FULRO soldiers and their families, who had escaped overland through Cambodia to Thailand, were relocated to the United States as refugees. The remnants of the army in Cambodia fell on especially hard time in the early 1990s. In 1992, demoralized and lacking food, ammunition and supplies, the remaining 400 FULRO combatants and their families in Mondolkiri surrendered to troops of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). A major element in the combatants' decision to give up their struggle at that time was that when they asked for help contacting Y Bham Enuol, they learned he had been executed in 1975. The group received asylum in the United States and was resettled in North Carolina in late 1992.54

During the 1990s, land conflicts and religious repression escalated in the Central Highlands, as described in chapters below. In general, however, expression of dissent-either through peaceful means or guerilla movements such as FULRO-was virtually nonexistent until early 2001, when earlier demands exploded into view again.

4 The Central Highlands, which border Cambodia and Laos, are bracketed on the west by the plains of eastern Cambodia, on the north by the Annamite mountain range, and on the south and east by the Mekong Delta and Vietnam's coastal lowlands. See map.

5 In the Republic of Vietnam (better known as South Vietnam) from 1955-1975, highlanders were officially referred to as dông bào thuong (highland compatriots); since 1975 there has been no specific term to refer to the indigenous minorities of the Central Highlands, who are commonly referred to by the same label as Vietnam's other minority groups (of which there are officially fifty-four) as dân tôc thiêu sô, or "ethnic minorities," in distinction to the "Kinh," or ethnic Vietnamese majority. Less officially they are referred to as nguoi thuong, or uplanders. In an effort to move away from the pejorative Vietnamese term for highlanders, moi, or savage, the French adopted the word Montagnard, which means mountain dweller. The use of the word Montagnard to refer to present-day indigenous communities has been criticized by some academics, who charge that it is a French colonial term and one taken over by U.S. Special Forces during the American War, who often called those highlanders who were militarily allied with the U.S. and not the Viet Minh, "Yards." Despite this-or perhaps because of their former affiliation with U.S. forces-some highlanders in Vietnam and the U.S. refer to themselves as Montagnards. The term "Dega" (also spelled Degar) has also increasingly been embraced as a collective term for Central Highland ethnic minorities, with both negative and positive connotations. For the purposes of this report Human Rights Watch uses the English-language terms "highlander," or "indigenous minorities" as well as the more commonly used term, Montagnard. See UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002, p.7; available on the Internet at

6 The Jarai and Ede are Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) speakers and the Bahnar, Mnong, Stieng and Koho are Mon Khmer, belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language family. Population figures are from the U.N. Development Program's Vietnam website,

7 A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam, East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995, p. xvii.

8 A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam, East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995, p. xvii. Sara Colm, "Land Rights: The Challenge for Ratanakiri's Indigenous Communities," Watershed: People's Forum on Ecology, Vol. 3, No. 1, Bangkok: Terra, July 1997.

9 The population density of the Central Highlands is currently estimated at forty-seven people per square kilometer, while the threshold for sustainable shifting cultivation is often put at thirty people per square kilometer. "Country comparisons on Highland Peoples development issues-Vietnam," Highland Peoples Programme Management Team, UNDP Bangkok, March 1997.

10 Oscar Salemink, "Customary Law, Land Rights and Internal Migration," Vietnam Social Sciences, February, 2000.

11 A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995, page xvii; Sara Colm, "Land Rights: The Challenge for Ratanakiri's Indigenous Communities," Watershed: People's Forum on Ecology, Vol. 3, No. 1, Bangkok: Terra, July 1997.

12 Gerald Cannon Hickey. Free in the Forest: Ethnohistory of the Vietnamese Central Highlands, 1954-1976. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982, p. 36.

13 Oscar Salemink, "The King of Fire and Vietnamese Ethnic Policy in the Central Highlands," published in Don McCaskill and K. Kampe, eds., Development or Domestication? Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1997, p. 512.

14 Greg Booth, "RRA Report of Two Communes in the Se San Watershed," Regional Environmental Technical Assistance 5771-Poverty Reduction & Environmental Management in Remote Greater Mekong Subregion Watersheds Project (Phase I), Helsinki, 1999. Sara Colm, "Options for Land Security Among Indigenous Communities, Ratanakiri, Cambodia," Banlung: Non-Timber Forest Products Project, May 1997.

15 Oscar Salemink, "Mois and Maquis: The Invention and Appropriation of Vietnam's Montagnards from Sabatier to the CIA," in George W. Stocking, Jr. (ed.), Colonial Situations: Essays in Ethnographic Contextualization (History of Anthropology, Vol. 7), Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, p. 244.

16 Oscar Salemink, "Mois and Maquis," p. 244.

17 Ordonnance fédérale du 27 Mai 1946 portant création d'un Commissariat du Gouvernement Fédéral pour les Populations Montagnardes du Sud Indochinois, signed by Thierry d'Argenlieu, Saigon, May 27, 1946. Article 1 provided that the provinces of the Central Highlands would cease to be under the jurisdiction of the Commissariat of the Republic for South Annam, but would form a special administrative division called the "Commissariat of the Federal Government for the Highland Populations of South Indochina," with its seat established at Buon Ma Thuot.

18 The French were attempting to circumvent an independent and united Vietnam under the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which had been declared an independent state by Ho Chi Minh in September 1945. Instead, the French preferred a separate Indochina federation consisting not only of the Vietnamese states of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina but also including Cambodia and Laos. In 1946 the French government provided Cambodia and Laos with limited autonomy under the Indo-Chinese Federation, with France maintaining control over the military, the economy, and the government. See Joseph Buttinger, Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1967, p. 388 and p. 391.

19 Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. D.J. Sagar, Major Political Events in Indo-China, 1945-1990, Oxford, Facts on File, 1991.

20 A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995, page xxii.

21 Edict No. 16/QT/TD, known as the statut particulier, signed by His Majesty Bao Dai, Chief of State, Dalat, May 21, 1951.

22 Salemink states that many of the ethnic minorities currently within the provincial administrations in the Central Highlands are "Vietnamized" minority cadre who went North with the Viet Minh in 1954, after the Geneva Agreements. Salemink, "The King of Fire and Vietnamese Ethnic Policy in the Central Highlands," p. 499.

23 Cited in Gerald Cannon Hickey. Free in the Forest: Ethnohistory of the Vietnamese Central Highlands, 1954-1976. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982. p. 66.

24 Viet Chung, "National Minorities and Nationality Policy in the D.R.V.," Vietnamese Studies, no 15 (1968), cited in Grant Evans, Internal Colonialism in the Central Highlands of Vietnam," Sojourn, volume 7, Number 2, 1992.

25 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 70.

26 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 17.

27 Y Bham Enuol, born in 1913, studied at the Franco-Rhade School, the CMA Bible School, and the Ecole Nationale d'Agriculture. In the 1950s he worked as a civil servant in the provincial agriculture service in Darlac and Pleiku provinces. Y Thih Eban, born in 1932, was educated at the Franco-Jarai School in Pleiku and the College Sabatier. Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 51.

28 Ibid.

29 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 59.

30 Ibid.

31 UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.

32 Salemink, "Mois and Maquis," p. 270.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Hickey. Free in the Forest, p. 78.

36 Ibid, p. 80.

37 The Cham are an ethnic group originating from the former Kingdom of Champa, which was located in present-day central Vietnam. It was absorbed into Vietnam over the course of three centuries, from 1471 until its assimilation by Vietnam in the 1830s. Khmer Krom are ethnic Khmers living primarily in southern Vietnam, in a region many Cambodians refer to as "Kampuchea Krom," or "lower Cambodia."

38 According to Hickey, the revolts were planned by Col. Les Kosem and Col. Um Savuth with the assistance of several Montagnard leaders. Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 99

39 According to a document prepared in 1993 by the U.S.-based Montagnard Foundation, Inc., another armed uprising took place earlier in the year on July 29, 1965 at Buon Brieng. The revolt was reportedly put down by the Saigon government, which arrested 600 FULRO combatants. Montagnard Foundation, Inc., "Human Rights Violations-the People of the Dega Republic; Supplemental Materials for a Presentation Made to the United Nations Workshop on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Geneva," July 19-30, 1993.

40 The FULRO combatants who were executed were Nay Ry, Ksor Bleo, R'Com Re, and Ksor Boh. Montagnard Foundation, Inc., "Human Rights Violations-the People of the Dega Republic; Supplemental Materials for a Presentation Made to the United Nations Workshop on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Geneva, July 19-30, 1993; Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 138. See also the accounts of the FULRO rebellions by First Lieutenant Roy C. Russell, "Their Time Has Come," Typhoon magazine, published by First Field Forces Vietnam of the U.S. Army Vietnam, October 1969.

41 The Directorate-General was upgraded to a Ministry in 1966. Salemink, "Mois and Maquis," p. 272.

42 Roy C. Russell, "Their Time Has Come," Typhoon magazine, published by First Field Forces Vietnam of the U.S. Army Vietnam, October 1969.

43 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 190.

44 Russell, "Their Time Has Come," Typhoon magazine, October 1969.

45 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. xx.

46 Until 1975 FULRO was made up of several different factions, some allied with the U.S. and other with the North Vietnamese. Mark Lioi, "The Montagnards-a 70-year saga of betrayal," Phnom Penh Post, June 8-21, 2001.

47 Nate Thayer, "Montagnard Army Seeks U.N. Help," Phnom Penh Post, Sept. 12, 1992; Nate Thayer and Leo Dobbs, "Tribal Fighters Head for Refuge in USA," Phnom Penh Post, October 23, 1992; Oscar Salemink interview with Pierre K'Bruih, April 16, 1990; cited in "Mois and Maquis," p. 273.

48 Reported in FBIS-APA. 18 May 1976; FBIS-APA, 6 July 1976; cited in Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 287 and 289. See also: UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.

49 Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. xxi.

50 FBIS-APA, 6 July 1976; cited in Hickey, Free in the Forest, p. 289.

51 Mark Lioi, "The Montagnards-a 70-year saga of betrayal," Phnom Penh Post, June 8 - 21, 2001.

52 Nayan Chanda, "Ieng Sary: Unite for Our Country," Far Eastern Economic Review 104, no. 25, 1979.

53 Nate Thayer, "Montagnard Army Seeks U.N. Help," Phnom Penh Post, Sept. 12, 1992.

54 Human Rights Watch interview with former FULRO combatant, Greensboro, North Carolina, January 1999. For more information on FULRO see Charles Meyer, Derrière Le Sourire Khmer, Paris: Plon, 1971.

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