- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I read with great interest and appreciation Sol Sanders’ column “Vietnam: In sadness but not in shame (Monday, Politics). It’s rare to find a column about Vietnam with such insight.

My work with the Montagnards took me to Vietnam 17 times from 1988 until 1999, including several trips to the central highlands. My last trip was with a U.S. congressional fact-finding delegation to the central highlands 10 years ago. I doubt that I will return.

Our modest little Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project, which was sponsored by Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, struggled for 12 years in an effort to carry out a humanitarian program focusing on various Montagnard villages and hospitals throughout Kontum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa and Lam Dong provinces. Often, our trips were sabotaged through visa delays by the Ministry of Interior in Hanoi, and often medical shipments never reached the intended clinic, which was always upsetting, given the enormous need in many villages where the tribal people suffer from Hansen’s disease. Even at Ea Ana hospital, near Ban Me Thuot, the local Ede were not permitted to worship in their tiny chapel on the leprosarium grounds.

It also was very disturbing that nearly all of the major U.S. and international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) from 1989 right up until our project closed in 2003 were reluctant even to attempt development assistance in the Montagnard central highlands because Hanoi insisted that it was off limits. It always frustrated me that the mainstream NGO community seemed more concerned about being politically correct with Hanoi.

We struggled, too, with the U.S. government for years, making trips to Washington and having countless meetings with the State Department, National Security Council and congressional offices. State usually had a polite and concerned response but never a forceful message to Hanoi.

In the past few years, there has been a shift of attention, thanks in large part to continued advocacy from friends of Montagnards, a few members of Congress and a handful of European and U.S. NGOs.

KAY REIBOLD

Project development specialist

Montagnard Human Rights Organization

Raleigh, N.C.

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