May 9, 2011 - ABC-Radio Australia - Foreign Media Barred from Vietnam's Ethnic Hmong Protests
Foreign Media Barred from Vietnam's
Ethnic Hmong Protests
Updated May 9, 2011
There's been more than a week of rare protests in Vietnam by thousands of ethnic minority Hmong.
The army has now sealed off Dien Bien - the remote mountainous area in north-eastern Vietnam - and reports suggest both
power and telecommunications to the area have been cut. Somewhere between five and seven thousand of the mostly Christian
Hmong have been demanding more religious freedom, better land rights and more autonomy.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Ben Bland, a reporter with the Financial Times based in Hanoi
Listen: Click Here to Listen to the Interview (This link will open in a new window)
BLAND: We understand that there are number thousand of Hmong protesters
who are gathering in a remote area in Dien Bien Province since the beginning of the month. The government was saying on Friday
that the situation there has now stabilised. We don't know exactly what they mean by that, but one source from the government
suggested to me that some of the protesters have started to go home and however I would stress that there is a distinct lack
of reliable information coming out of the area for a number of reasons.
COCHRANE: And one of those, of course,
is that foreign journalists have been banned from the area and telecommunications appear to have been cut. How reliable are
the reports that are coming out?
BLAND: Well, I think we have to treat most reports with a degree of scepticism
and as you said, the Foreign Ministry which regulates foreign journalists there have refused us to allow us to travel to the
province at the moment and the Vietnamese press, which is controlled by the Communist government hasn't really been covering
these protests and there have been a number of reports from different religious groups and groups connected with the Hmong
ethnic minority, some of which have suggested that there've been deaths in the area, but at the moment, diplomats are saying
that we should treat these with a degree of caution, due to the lack of verifiable information coming out of the area.
COCHRANE: Now, there have been, of course, protests in this area in previous years. Do we know what the specific demands,
if any are from the Hmong who are protesting at the moment?
BLAND: Well, a number of Vietnam's ethnic minority
groups have had disputes with the government in the past and some of these stretched back to the war with America, when some
of these ethnic minority groups fought alongside the Americans against the Communists in North Vietnam. In this case, I'm
not sure there's actually been a long history of problems in this particular province, but I understand from sources within
the government and diplomatic sources that in this case it's some sort of religious uprising and there's been a suggestion
that it may be connected to the Millenarianism movement in the province and the government said in a statement that the protesters
might be gathering because they believe the super natural force would come to the province and grant happiness to all the
people and the government claims that outside forces were manipulating this to encourage the Hmong to act against the government
and set up an autonomous region. Now the diplomats I've spoken to do believe that there is some sort of Millenarianism movement
there and that there is an expectation that Jesus Christ may come back to the area later in the month and that's why people
started gathering and that's why they've been reluctant to go home and why the Vietnamese government decided to send in security
forces to encourage the people to disperse.
COCHRANE: Ben, that seems like quite an extraordinary reason for a
protest. The prospect of the second coming of Jesus and a super natural force and all of that. Is this kind of thing fairly
common in these remote areas?
BLAND: Well, I think within South East Asia and more broadly there's a history of
Millenarian uprisings among some of these different tribal groupings, but, at the same time, I would stress again the lack
of verifiable information and there are likely to be other socio-economic root causes in this very poor district and a very
poor province. Most of these protesters are likely to be subsistent farmers and in the past, they have had a number of grievances
with the government to deal with encroachment onto their land and illegal logging and yes, generally they lead a very barren
life out there. So I think you've got to see this in the context of socio-economic reality in these provinces which are very
COCHRANE: Just briefly then, there have been some reports officials have been taken hostage by the protesters.
Do we have any more on that?
BLAND: Again, I think it's I have heard reports this has happened, again the government
claims the situation has stabilised, so we really don't know. What we do know is that the government has been building up
the security forces in the area and we know that we can't go and we know the Vietnamese press haven't been reporting. But
I think for now we really won't know until more information comes out. I would say that the US embassy in Vietnam which follows
these religious freedom and human rights quite closely has made a statement. They've said that they're following the situation
and they've urged all sides to avoid violence and resolve any differences peacefully and they did also say that they've inquired
about reports of violence, but they can't confirm anything either at the moment.