Vietnamese soldiers clashed with ethnic Hmong after thousands staged a rare protest in a remote mountain area calling for greater autonomy and religious freedom, a military source said Thursday. The Vietnamese army sent troop reinforcements after the demonstrations broke out several days ago in Dien Bien province in the far northwest of the communist nation, near the border with China and Laos. Soldiers “had to disperse the crowd by force”, according to the military source, who did not provide details of any casualties or the number of troops involved.
“Minor clashes occurred between the Hmong and security forces,” he added. Protesters numbered in their thousands and “the army had to intervene to prevent these troubles from spreading”, the source said. It is Vietnam’s worst known case of ethnic unrest since protests in 2001 and 2004 in the Central Highlands by the Montagnards. About 1,700 of them fled to Cambodia after troops crushed protests against land confiscation and religious persecution. Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mainly Christian Hmong are a Southeast Asian ethnic group who helped US forces against North Vietnam during the secret wartime campaign in Laos. They faced retribution after the communist takeover. The isolated but scenic Dien Bien region is normally popular with Vietnamese travellers, some of whom warned each other on a Web chatroom to stay away from the area because of a “Hmong uprising”. Other postings on the same topic had been removed, as sometimes happens in Vietnam when controversial issues are reported online.