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Outside troops have been mobilized. We have battle plans. Pleiku is ready for any military actions if needed.

-Military official in the Gia Lai provincial army base, February 9, 2001, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Following the protests, Vietnamese authorities responded with a mixture of repression and new policy initiatives, some aimed at addressing highlander grievances. Their initial reaction was to dispatch thousands of police and army units to disperse the protesters. Police conducted village-to-village sweeps and arrested dozens of highlanders, in a number of cases using torture to elicit confessions and public statements of remorse or renunciation of Christianity by protest organizers and church leaders. Those singled out included former FULRO and church leaders, as well as demonstrators. Authorities also stepped up surveillance and propaganda activities throughout the Central Highlands. They banned religious gatherings in many places and tightened existing controls on association, assembly, and movement. They also virtually barred outside access to the region, allowing only a few strictly controlled government tours.

At the same time, the Vietnamese government moved to increase its minority language broadcasting, although much of this was directed to programs extolling the virtue of the party and its policies. It pledged to increase educational opportunities for minorities and initiated a review of economic development policies in the Central Highlands.

Repression, however, continued throughout 2001, with further arrests and the destruction and closure of minority churches. In June 2001, the party issued an internal analysis of the causes of the February unrest, concluding that political enemies were using ethnicity and religion to weaken national unity. Beginning in September 2001 and continuing through early 2002, at least thirty-four highlanders were brought to trial for their role in the protests. As the first anniversary of the protests approached in February 2002, the presence of security forces in the region was increased with the deployment of additional 2,300 soldiers to Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kontum.278

The Immediate Response: Arrests and Police Sweeps

Even before the February 2001 demonstrations started, elite military troops and riot police were sent to Gia Lai and Dak Lak, where police set up checkpoints along the main roads to block protesters from entering the provincial towns. At least three tanks were sent into Buon Ma Thuot on February 3. Immediately following the Buon Ma Thuot demonstration, four units of troops from Vietnam army's 95th Regiment were sent to Dak Lak, and helicopters circled the area for days.279

Despite the troop build-up, it appeared at first as though the authorities might choose not to take action against the demonstrators. During and after the demonstrations in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot, provincial authorities met with some of the protest leaders to discuss their concerns. "They told us to wait fifteen days, go home and stop demonstrating, and they would decide," said an Ede man who was in the delegation that met with officials in Buon Ma Thuot. "We said if the problem isn't solved within fifteen days we will demonstrate again. They said don't worry."280

The demonstrators agreed to disperse, with most returning to their villages that night. Instead, beginning as early as midnight on February 3, security forces began to arrest suspected movement leaders. Police began fanning out into hundreds of villages, where they conducted searches and interrogated villagers. They used photographs of marchers taken during the demonstrations or at the police barricades erected on the roads to the provincial towns the day of the protests to identify suspected organizers. One Ede man described what happened:

Within days of our meeting with the People's Committee they started the arrests. Soldiers and police came to the villages in Russian jeeps with name lists. Tanks were parked outside the villages.281

Late on the night of February 3-4, three jeeps carrying provincial policemen entered a hamlet on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot. "They surrounded my house," said one man who was arrested that night. "My wife was crying. I was wearing only shorts, no shirt. They beat me and gave me shocks with an electric baton. They tied me up and threw me in the jeep. They accused me of organizing the demonstrations, and sent me to the prison in Buon Ma Thuot." He was released three months later.282

On the night of February 6-7, tanks moved from the center of Buon Ma Thuot along the road to Buon Cuor Knea, about fifteen kilometers east of the provincial town.283

On February 6 in Gia Lai, police surrounded and ransacked the homes of suspected leaders including Bom Jena and Ksor Kroih and took them off in late-night abductions.284 A Jarai man from Gia Lai described the arrests:

At 2:00 a.m. on February 6, the police, government cadres and ordinary Vietnamese beat gongs and drums and surrounded the villages. They entered the villages, damaged houses, rifled through belongings, and arrested people. Everyone was really afraid. My own house was destroyed, and I had to flee.285

In Dak Lak, sixty police and soldiers stormed Buon Ea Sup village at midnight on February 6, firing into the air and throwing tear gas canisters as they entered. They surrounded the homes of people suspected of leading others to the demonstrations, including Y Nuen Buon Ya (Ama El) and Y Nong (Ama Cong). The police dragged the two men out of their homes in their underwear and arrested them.286 Several hundred young ethnic Vietnamese teenagers holding burning torches in their hands accompanied the police and soldiers.

"The Vietnamese were screaming and shouting and threatened to burn down our houses," said an eyewitness from Buon Ea Sup. "They were mocking our `stupid' ideas and said, `It is our land, not yours-you will see. We can kill you all within an hour.'"287

At 3:00 a.m. on February 6, police surrounded the homes of several organizers in neighboring Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak. Many had already gone into hiding but Siu Un, who had been briefly detained in January, was again arrested.288 The next day the police returned, this time with written arrest warrants for three people, two of whom had already fled.289 At least ten people in Dak Lak were arrested immediately after the protests, according to Vietnamese officials interviewed by Reuters.290

By February 9, a military official at the Gia Lai provincial army base announced that additional troops had been mobilized and that Pleiku was prepared for any necessary military action. On February 10, the party newspaper Nhan Dan (The People) reported that 1,300 military reinforcements had been sent to the Central Highlands since late January, where authorities were employing "proper security measures" in order to "encourage local people to return to their hamlets."291

As the arrests were taking place, provincial authorities in Gia Lai again summoned ethnic minority church leaders on February 6, to remind them that their role was to promote solidarity and warn them about attempts by "wicked elements to exploit religion to make propaganda, distort the situation and sow disunity among local inhabitants."292

By February 8, the Foreign Ministry announced that twenty people had been arrested in Gia Lai alone for "provocative acts" and damaging state property during the demonstrations. "They were people who caused social instability and damage, destroyed schools and resisted the authorities," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told reporters.293 A provincial official in Gia Lai said that the suspects were former FULRO members who were spreading Protestantism and advocating autonomy.294

At least eight people were arrested immediately after the February 14 demonstrations in Kontum provincial town. Some were released from the provincial prison in August 2001 and placed under house arrest.295

The arrests continued during the second half of February in Ea H'leo, Krong Buk, Krong Nang, and Ea Sup districts of Dak Lak. On February 14, forty police and soldiers entered a village in Ea H'leo in Dak Lak to carry out arrests. "At my house they beat me on my head and on my back and arms with a stick," said a man who was arrested. "I passed out, and they threw me in a vehicle. When I came to I was in the prison in Buon Ma Thuot. They asked if I wanted to follow Kok Ksor or the government of Vietnam. I said Kok Ksor, and they hit me again." He was released on May 19, 2001.296

Hearing of the arrests and police sweeps, other Montagnard leaders and members of the movement immediately went into hiding; some in underground pits in villages, others in the forest. By mid-February, a handful had crossed the border from Gia Lai to Ratanakiri in Cambodia, followed by dozens more in early March who had fled from Dak Lak further south across to Mondolkiri, Cambodia.

Surveillance and Interrogations

Throughout the Central Highlands, highlanders were subjected to surveillance and interrogation after the February protests. A villager from Chu Se district, Gia Lai described the situation there:

After the demonstrations there was no freedom in our village. Police went to each house to interrogate the people and patrolled on the roads near our homes. At night there were soldiers around the village-some with guns, others with batons. We were afraid all the time.297

Police and local authorities went village by village to search for suspected organizers and conduct community meetings to pressure people to sign loyalty oaths and persuade them not to support independence. A resident of Ea H'leo described a session that took place in early February:

In these meetings, the Vietnamese communist cadre would state: what kind of person is this Kok Ksor that people would follow him? They said he was a person who stole villagers' cattle, that he had only finished fourth or fifth grade, and what right did he have to declare an independent Dega nation? The world only accepted Ho Chi Minh as the leader of the Vietnamese nation. By historical tradition the whole world recognized the nation of Vietnam; no one in the world recognized a Dega nation.298

A Jarai man described the atmosphere in Dak Doa district, Dak Lak:

After we saw others arrested, many people went into hiding. The government and police forced families of those who had fled to turn in their husbands. They took pictures of the houses of the men who had fled and of their wives. They searched and ransacked the houses. Then they called village meetings, in which they included children and youth. The government asked, who do you want to follow: Ho Chi Minh or Kok Ksor? They made the people sign and thumbprint statements and forced the people not to follow Kok Ksor. In my commune the chief of commune called adults and teenagers alike and told them not to follow Kok Ksor. The youth did not know why they were called.299

Another man from Ia Grai district in Gia Lai said:

After the demonstrations there was a lot of pressure and intimidation. People didn't dare go to their fields alone. The police were everywhere. They called meetings every day, telling people not to follow Kok Ksor. Before the demonstrations there were no soldiers in my village; afterwards, they guarded everywhere. If we went to see the water level in our rice field the soldiers wouldn't let us go after dark but told us to wait until morning. If I left my home, soldiers watched my house to see if I'd return.300

Former members of FULRO came in for particular scrutiny. They were subject to police interrogation and monitoring regardless of whether they had participated in the protests.301 An eighty-nine-year old Mnong man from Dak Lak who had left the FULRO movement in 1992 described the situation:

After the demonstrations three policemen and about twenty soldiers entered my village to investigate people, especially former FULRO. I fled to my farm field. Three policemen came to my house looking for me. They questioned my neighbors as well but they were especially looking for me. They knew I'd been a FULRO member three times [in the late 1950s, mid-1960s, and from 1975-92] so they were really interested in finding me. The police came six or seven times to my house. Finally in June I was able to escape to Cambodia.302

A Montagnard from Dak Lak who had been a FULRO member until his arrest and imprisonment in 1985 said that government officials were searching for former FULRO both before and after the demonstrations:

They summoned me six times to the police station, beginning in December 2000. Each time I didn't agree with their demands to join with them. My neighbors and relatives warned me that the government was getting ready to arrest me and send me to prison or secretly kill me because I'd been a member of FULRO in the past. When I joined Kok Ksor's organization in 2000, I already had a name as an opponent of the government.303

On February 8, police summoned forty villagers in Buon Ea Sup in Dak Lak who were suspected of supporting MFI to the commune police headquarters for interrogation, but released them that evening. The police sessions in Buon Ea Sup continued every day, including Sundays, for weeks. Participants in the demonstrations were pressured to sign written statements promising to end all contact with MFI and other "foreign organizations" and to abandon Christianity.

"They wanted us to say that Vietnamese and ethnic minorities were one people, not separate," said a villager from Buon Ea Sup. "They also wanted us to do a special ceremony to seal the pledge, in which we were to drink wine mixed with goat's blood."304

Police Torture

Some people-particularly those suspected of being key supporters of Kok Ksor-were beaten and tortured during their "working sessions" with the police, as described by one villager from Buon Ea Sup:

Three police interrogated me in a room. They asked me whether I had documents from Kok Ksor and I said no. Then they beat me. They used an electric baton near my eyes [he has a small scar there still]. I don't know how many times they shocked me; I lost consciousness. When I came to, I realized my back and my stomach hurt badly and that I had probably been kicked many times.

They brought me to the police station for such sessions-beating and interrogation-fifteen times over the next fifteen days. In some of the sessions the policeman pinched my ears and twisted my eyelids, and slammed his elbow into my ribs. He was angry that I'd shown other villagers the map and documents [about the proposed Dega state] and demanded that I confess.

They beat me so badly that I finally gave up the documents to them. They still continued to pressure me about religion and tried to get me to sign a document renouncing Christianity. I said I couldn't write. The policeman took my hand in his and forced my hand. The interrogations went this way every time, every day, until March 9 when I fled.305

Targeting of Christians

Repression of Christians increased throughout the highlands as a result of the protests. On February 8, the party secretary in Dak Lak, Y Luyen, reportedly convened a meeting at the People's Committee office in Cu Jut district in which he announced that Christian believers in the Central Highlands would be severely punished. Church services were subsequently closed down in many parts of the province, including Buon Ea Mhdar (Buon Don District), and Buon Jung Vi, Buon Pok (Krong Pac District), and in Ea H'leo and Ea Sup districts.306 Protestant churches in Ban Don district in Dak Lak were also closed, with authorities preventing all assembly for worship in many villages since that time.307 Villagers in Ea Sup district of Dak Lak described interrogation sessions with the police that started on February 8:

They asked us questions about Tin Lanh Dega (Dega Protestantism), why we had gone to the demonstration, why we wanted to make an independent state, and so on. They told us not to hold any more demonstrations, and said that it was prohibited to follow our religion. They said "Dega Protestantism" was not a real religion but something started by the "FULRO-Dega" group.308

Similar pressure was brought to bear on minority Christians in Kontum, Lam Dong and Gia Lai after the demonstrations. In Lam Dong, Christians were not permitted to gather at the church in Phi Lieng commune, Lam Ha district, and authorities confiscated all the furniture in the chapel.309 In Ayun Pa district, Gia Lai, local authorities closed down a church in Ea To commune, which had been open for approximately five years, and banned house church meetings.310 A Bible teacher in Chu Se district, Gia Lai, described the situation:

In the past they had mistreated Christians, but after the protests in February 2001 the situation changed, and they made it much more difficult for us to practice our religion. When we tried to pray, the police were always close by, watching and listening. They were trying to find the leaders of the demonstrations, always coming around and questioning people.311

Even highlanders who did not attend the February demonstrations described being regarded as subversives by local authorities because Christianity-particularly "Dega Protestantism"-was regarded as the underlying source of the February unrest. Suppression of minority Christians was to continue and intensify during the year following the protests.

278 Reuters, "Vietnam to send extra police to Central Highlands," January 29, 2002. Reuters, "Hanoi troops sent to teach highlanders about plots," February 25, 2002.

279 Reuters, "Vietnam tense after protests," February 8, 2001. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, "War-era FULRO thought to be fueling Vietnam unrest," February 9, 2001.

280 Human Rights Watch interview with Ede man from Dak Lak, July 13, 2001.

281 Ibid.

282 Ibid.

283 Human Rights Watch interview with Ede man from Buon Ma Thuot, July 13, 2001.

284 Bom Jena was later sentenced to twelve years of imprisonment and Ksor Kroih was sentenced to eleven during a trial conducted on September 26, 2001 in Pleiku.

285 Human Rights Watch interview, Jarai man from Gia Lai, March 2001.

286 Y Nuen Buon Ya, whom Vietnamese state media later alleged had persuaded thousands of highlanders to demonstrate, was sentenced to eleven years in prison on September 26, 2001 on charges of "undermining public security." Y Nong was reportedly sentenced to four years in prison after a trial in October or November 2001.

287 Eyewitnesses from Buon Ea Sup said in October 2001 said that it appeared that the police had mobilized the Vietnamese youth to raid the village because they arrived at the same time as the police and military, who made no efforts to control them.

288 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, March 2000. Siu Un was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment on charges of undermining security at a trial on September 26, 2001.

289 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, March 2000.

290 Reuters, "After unrest, Vietnam paper publishes riot code," March 28, 2001.

291 Agence France-Presse, "Vietnam signals determination to crack down on ethnic unrest," February 10, 2001.

292 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army Daily), cited by Tini Tran, "Ethnic Minority Protest in Vietnam," Associated Press, February 7, 2001. Steve Kirby, "Vietnam warns religious leaders over ethnic unrest," Agence France Presse, February 7, 2001.

293 Reuters, "Vietnam says 20 arrested over ethnic unrest," February 8, 2001. David Brunnstrom, "Officials differ over religion in Vietnam unrest," Reuters, March 16, 2001.

294 Tini Tran, "Vietnam Era Group Accused," Associated Press, February 10, 2001.

295 Human Rights Watch interviews with Jarai and Bahnar men from Kontum, October 30, 2001.

296 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, Dak Lak, October 11, 2001.

297 Human Rights Watch interview with a Jarai man from Chu Se district, Gia Lai, June 27, 2001.

298 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, Dak Lak, March 2001.

299 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Gia Lai, March 2001.

300 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ia Grai district, Gia Lai, June 26, 2001.

301 A June 2001 internal VCP document alleged that many evangelical pastors and church workers are former FULRO members who have been manipulated by the United States to oppose the Vietnamese government. Confidential VCP Advisory, "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses and the Traditional Life, the Revolution, and the Solidarity among all Ethnic Peoples and Oppose the Forces who are Active in Order to Destroy the Progressive Forces and the Protection of our Fatherland, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," June 2001. Vietnamese language document and English translation on file at Human Rights Watch.

302 Human Rights Watch interview with Mnong man from Dak Lak, June 23, 2001.

303 Human Rights Watch with Montagnard from Dak Lak, October 30, 2001.

304 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, October 20, 2001.

305 Human Rights Watch interviews with Jarai man from Buon Ea Sup, Dak Lak, October 20, 2001.

306 Vietnam Observer, "April 2001 Update on Western Highlands Situation-Vietnam."

307 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Vietnam: International Religious Freedom Report, October 2001.

308 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, Dak Lak, October 20, 2001.

309 "Central Highlands Christian Workers' Situation Reports, December 2001 through February 2002," written by Protestant church leaders who asked to remain anonymous. English translation of Vietnamese language document on file at Human Rights Watch.

310 Religious gatherings were still banned in that village as of February 2002. Human Rights Watch interviews, Jarai families from Ayun Pa district, Gia Lai, February 20, 2002.

311 Human Rights Watch interview with a Jarai man from Chu Se district, Gia Lai, June 28, 2001.

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