Hunting Montagnards In Cambodia
February 22, 2007
They still hunt Montagnards here in the eastern province of Mondulkiri, Cambodia, like the Native American Indians were hunted down in the Old West in the United States. It’s hard to believe that such a thing could still be happening in the year 2006 and that the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn, but that’s the way it is here.
The irony is that hunting the forest animals for meat is now against the law in Cambodia but there is no such prohibition when it comes to hunting humans who flee oppression from the nearby police state of Vietnam.
The main crimes of the minority peoples of Southeast Asia is that they aligned themselves with the Americans during the Vietnam War and that the hardliners in the Hanoi politburo have never strayed from their obsession with collecting their blood debt after the war. The communist party of Indochina founded by Ho Chi Minh has given the world the boat people, the reeducation camps, the genocide of the Hmong people in Laos, and the killing fields of Cambodia.
The Vietnamese communist party apparatus still maintains a virtual iron curtain around the Central Highlands of Vietnam that used to be the traditional homeland for the 54 ethnic hill tribes loosely defined as Montagnards. No Montagnard can leave a village without a pass, their leaders are confined to house arrest, and many are in prison that refuse to denounce their protestant religion.
One can always tell when a group of Montagnards escape into Mondulkiri Province. Vietnamese army and police officials chase after them and cross the border as if they owned western Cambodia. The Cambodian provincial police are alerted, and the guesthouses in the capitol of Sen Monorum quickly fill with Cambodian police and army officials from neighboring provinces.
The government approved bounty hunters, who bring along their karaoke girls for the week’s fun, then hunt the fleeing Montagnards and sell them back to the Vietnamese for $20 to $100, depending upon the importance of the individual captured. Twenty dollars is a month’s pay for a policeman in this part of the world.
The UNHCR who is supposed to be there to assist the Montagnard refugees then enters the picture. After most of the Montagnards have been captured and sold back to the Vietnamese, Prime Minister Hun Sen gives permission to the UNHCR in Phnom Penh to travel to Mondulkiri to help the escaping Montagnards.
After an 8-hour drive from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri in their shiny white Land Rovers, the UNHCR workers give the pretense of searching for the escaping refugees, and once in awhile, they happen to find a few. One has to wonder why the UNHCR has their refugee camp an impossible distance of 300 kilometers for the fleeing Montagnards to reach safely.
My experience last year with a UNHCR rep in charge of the refugee camp was that he had utter contempt for the fleeing Montagnards from Vietnam, referring to them as economic refugees rather than legitimate political refugees. With a straight face, he told me that the Montagnards sent back to Vietnam are quite well treated and receive high paying jobs. “We have a Vietnamese on staff who resides in Hanoi, “he proudly stated. “He travels to the Central Highlands to investigate human rights violations.” And surprise, there aren’t any human rights violations.
That’s the way the game is played here in Cambodia. The human rights organizations that I met with here last month in Phnom Penh have little respect for the UNHCR. UNHCR bowed to behind the scenes pressure from the Hanoi government several years ago and pulled their camps back to Phnom Penh where they now only give a wink and a nod to the fleeing Montagnards.
The US Consulate staff in Vietnam has adapted the UNHCR’s view of the Montagnards’ plight in the Central Highlands in that the Montagnards themselves are the cause for most of their difficulties and that there are no human rights abuses there.
In October of 2005 in Saigon, I met with the refugee resettlement section representing eleven Montagnard families from North Carolina. They were pleading for US officials to intervene with government officials for their relatives who were being hassled and extorted for huge sums of money for documents that they needed to successfully emigrate.
“The Montagnards are basically an uneducated bunch who don’t follow the rules,” lectured one senior US official. “When we go out to investigate, we find them to be the ones causing the problems.”
But of course, when US officials are allowed into the Central Highlands on rare occasions, a communist minder accompanies them. The Montagnards are then interviewed with police officials breathing down their necks. And surprise, they say they are treated quite well.
There is an iron curtain that surrounds the Central Highlands today. There is absolutely no independent inquiry allowed there. Even our own ambassador can’t visit there independently. There was more press freedom in Vietnam back during the Vietnam War as western reporters could travel anywhere and report their findings without censure or fear. The American media doesn’t seem to be interested in this topic today.
What a tragedy that America has abandoned our former allies in the Vietnam War a second time. Now the US has the leverage to force the Vietnamese government to treat the Montagnards better but it remains silent when Hanoi glosses over their draconian human rights record in their bid for entrance into the WTO.
The new focus in Vietnam today is market capitalism with no human rights or religious freedom for the ethnic minorities. The communist party and the politburo that are the real power in Vietnam learned long ago that they could make money off the backs of the little people. That’s why they confiscated the Montagnards’ valuable land in the Central Highlands.
According to the magazine Asia Inc, Nov-Dec 2006, the government of Vietnam today owns 1500 state enterprises worth 30 billion dollars. Yes, that’s right, a tiny minority that comprises the communist party that is the government of Vietnam is now worth 30 billion dollars.
Why have the mainstream media ignored the plight of the Montagnards and their cousins, the Hmong in Laos for over 30 years, and still continue to do so?
The modern day intelligentsia that dominate our universities where speech codes are in place and free exchange of ideas are very limited, grew up as a part of the anti-war movement of the l960’s singing the simple Marxist phrases of Ho Chi Minh and damning the evil American military capitalist machine. And most of the mainstream media stars of that time period marched lock step with them. It’s now a given that the Vietnam War was lost in the streets of American and on American television. Even the North Vietnamese generals admit it in their memoirs. (Is a similar parallel unfolding today?)
Those Vietnam Veterans who fought the war along side the South Vietnamese and the Montagnards received the scorn of the American left who sang praises for Uncle Ho and his communist cadres who were going to introduce the new socialist paradise on earth. But then, the holocaust that unraveled in Southeast Asia after the American military left, had been simply too painful for the left in America to face, for if they honestly examined it, they might find themselves guilty by their tacit support for the perpetrators of the killing fields in Cambodia, the reeducation camps in Vietnam, and the genocide of the ethnic hill tribes that continues today.
To put it into simpler words, that’s the side the left in America rooted for in the Vietnam War. How can they ever honestly face up to it? Or accurately write about it.
One has to wonder why the Vietnamese communist party is so paranoid and ruthless in their treatment of a few Montagnards escaping their clutches in the middle of the night. That’s because they know they can get away with it and that the mainstream media in the West really isn’t interested in the human rights abuses of a communist police state.
It seems the Socialist Republic of Vietnam still owns the hearts and minds of the dominant media culture in America. By their ongoing silence that has lasted for over 30 years, they continue to ignore the ongoing genocide in Southeast Asia of our former allies and swallow the communist doublespeak as to the human rights violation there.
But if one were ever to stray off the tourist path in Cambodia and Vietnam like I have, it’s easy to discover that, “The Montagnards are hunted down like animals and sold back to the Vietnamese communist government, and the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn.”