- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

I was confused after reading the March 13 Letter to the Editor by Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. It sounded like a State Department “snow job” to me. Mrs. Sauerbrey stated that more than 3,000 Montagnard refugees have been resettled in the U.S. in the last 32 years, a paltry number for a people that lost more than half of their adult male population and 80 percent of their villages destroyed fighting for the United States.

Mrs. Sauerbrey also claims international monitors have visited nearly 80 percent of the Montagnards refouled or returned from Cambodia to Vietnam. She forgot to say communist government “minders” accompanied them and the interviews were staged. Without free access, how could they conduct independent, honest interviews? A main monitor from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) was Vu Anh Son, a citizen of communist Vietnam. This compromises his independence. We call that putting a fox in the henhouse.

Mrs. Sauerbrey goes on to say the purported independent monitors, accompanied by Vietnamese government minders, “found that these returned Montagnards have not suffered any persecution”; nevertheless, 20 percent is a very large margin of error to make such a claim. However, reports from inside Vietnam belie Mrs. Sauerbrey’s claims; e.g., two Montagnard Christians, Siu Nang and Rmah Non, after agreeing to voluntary to return from Vietnam with UNHCR assurances, on Jan. 6, 2006, were arrested, beaten and incarcerated in the Cu Se district prison.

Their families do not know what has happened to them because they are not allowed visits. Both are from the village of Plei Pah, commune La Hla, district Cu Se, Gia Lai Province. I suggest Assistant Secretary of State Sauerbrey return to Vietnam and try to conduct independent interviews with them, and the other 20 percent who may suffer the same fate, without the presence of her so called kinder and gentler Vietnamese communist “minders.” There are more than 600 Montagnard political prisoners imprisoned in Vietnam, some for seeking refuge in Cambodian from persecution. Others are Christian pastors and believers who refused to denounce their religious beliefs.

Mrs. Sauerbrey also said, “I asked Cambodian government officials to ensure UNHCR has timely access to asylum-seekers arriving in the border areas.” The reality is that Vietnam pays the Cambodian border police “bounties” for every Montagnard they catch and turn over to them. The Cambodian government neither allows a UNHCR presence nor searches for Montagnards in the two provinces bordering Vietnam, and refugees have to run a gauntlet of danger to make their way to Phnom Penh. It seems as if the State Department is rewarding the corrupt and abusive Cambodian government by giving them $55.8 million for violating international law by its barbaric behavior.

As Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem arrived recently in Washington, DC, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, held a press conference on Capitol Hill regarding Vietnam’s “unbridled human rights abuses” and its “worst wave of oppression in 20 years.” Mr. Smith said Vietnam has been “putting on a face” that things have changed in the country to be removed from the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) list and gain Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with the United States. However, after the regime accomplished these tasks, “they revert back to form” in continuing their oppression.

Mr. Smith was joined by Republican Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Californians Ed Royce and Dana Rohrabacher, as well as by other prominent human-rights activists. Mr. Smith added, “We are here today to tell the Vietnamese government that enough is enough. It is time for human rights to flourish in Vietnam.” Mr. Wolf said, “If the crackdown is permitted to continue the American ambassador to Vietnam should step down or be fired.” Mr. Royce demanded that Hanoi issue a response to what he called an “intolerable” crackdown that “runs counter to American values and universal values on human rights.”

Mr. Rohrabacher’s message to the visiting Vietnamese delegation was, “You have exposed yourself as the tyrannical, gangster regime that you are. It is about time that the people running our government quit doing the bidding of business interests that oppress people in Vietnam.”

It’s one thing for Mrs. Sauerbrey to “encourage NGOs to seek permission to visit the Central Highlands, assess the human-rights situation firsthand and establish assistance projects there.” However, this area is strictly “off-limits” to U.S. Embassy and Consulate personnel and other Western diplomats, journalists and others unless taken on strictly controlled “guided tours” by Vietnamese security personnel, and then only to “safe villages.” A Rhade woman told Human Rights Watch: “When foreign officials go to Dak Lak Province, canh sat co dong are sent with guns and electric batons to the village. They worry we will demonstrate. They declare a holiday, block the road to the city, and prohibit us from leaving the village.” Mrs. Sauerbrey however, discounts any report published by HRW, a world renowned human-rights organization, that counters her naive notions of communist Vietnam.

As for Mrs. Sauerbrey’s statement, “The Vietnamese authorities have assured us that ethnic minorities are free to travel to our Consulate General,” it seems to me the Vietnamese also assured us they wouldn’t invade South Vietnam after the Paris Agreements.

Although some superficial changes regarding human rights and religious freedom have been made, nevertheless, the abuses continue. In the Central Highlands, the abuses of the indigenous Montagnard ethnic minority population continue behind “closed doors. A coalition of human-rights organizations released this statement at the press conference: “After a period of lying low in an effort to curry favor with the U.S., obtain PNTR status and secure entrance into WTO, the authorities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) in recent days have shown their true nature by launching a brutal campaign of repression characterized by the Human Rights Watch as ‘one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissidents in 20 years.’ ”

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