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Montagnard Article on National Review online
Posted on July 07, 2005

Vietnam War - Montagnards Has President Bush sold out the people in Vietnam for three or four airplanes the communist want to buy? President Bush had bad intelligence about the WMDs from a person that is now is the Oil Minister of Irak. He sure has bad intelligence on Vietnam if he is ready to do business with them. I did vote for Bush as he was the lesser of two evils. I thought he would do better. I am disappointed with him now. I hope things change for the better. I will wait and see. The Vietnamese cannot wait as many are dying daily from their treatment under the communist. Try going to Vietnam or Cambodia which Vietnam controls. Try to travel anywhere out in the country or the Central Highlands. You will be stopped. You may be like Rev. John Steer and thrown out of Vietnam. He asked to go out in the country where he lost his arm in battle. Be a fool and trust a communist. It is time to stop being a fool and stand up for our friends that can not help themselves against the brutal communist.

Danny "Greasy" Belcher, Executive Director
Task Force Omega of KY Inc.
Infantry Sgt. Vietnam 68-69 D Troop 7th Sqdn. 1st Air Cav.

July 05, 2005

When the Vietnamese prime minister came to the United States, he heard from Vietnamese Americans

04/07/2005 | National Review (Digital July 18, 2005) | VIETNAM |


Relatively few Americans spend their time thinking about the plight of the millions of people living under Vietnamese Communism.

The visit of Vietnamese prime minister Phan Van Khai to the United States last month provided an opportunity to change that. Khai's > trip - the first official visit by a Vietnamese leader since the end of the Vietnam War - was welcomed by some as a chance for the U.S. to "bury the ghost of a past conflict" (the words of the Houston Chronicle's editorialists) and to show, as Sen. John McCain put it, "that enemies can become partners and partners friends."

To thousands of Vietnamese Americans across the country, however, it was instead an occasion to point out the extent to which the Hanoi government abuses its citizens, and to call on the Bush administration to use its leverage to push for change.

Take Nina Nguyen, who flew from her home in Hawaii to the capital to participate in two demonstrations while the prime minister was in town. The director of a television station for Vietnamese Americans that promotes religious and civil liberty in Vietnam, Nguyen fled the Communists in 1975 (she was evacuated by American airlift). "I don't fight for me, because I have freedom in America," she says. "I fight for 80 million people living in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communists are terrorists. They used force to overcome the Republic of Vietnam - they took away the traditional country we learned from our history." Her sentiment is hardly uncommon.

Nguyen Tai Dam, the founder of a Vietnamese-American organization in northern California, organized a demonstration in San Francisco that he estimates around 200 people attended. "We have to fight for our brethren in Vietnam - to let their voices be heard to the free world." Dam was a lieutenant colonel in the Republic of Vietnam's armed forces during the war, and, like most officers in that army, he was imprisoned afterward by the Communists, in his case for ten years. "Without these protests and demonstrations in the U.S., I am sure that the Vietnamese government would oppress its people even more. And without these demonstrations on the outside, the people inside the country wouldn't have the courage to voice their concerns."

A group of Montagnards, a predominantly Christian tribal people who live in Vietnam's Central Highlands, also organized a demonstration during Khai's visit, along with fellow ethnic minorities the Hmong and Khmer Krom. Members of the three groups fought alongside American soldiers during the Vietnam War, and have suffered for it since. The fate of the Montagnards has been especially grim.

Their population has reportedly declined significantly since 1975, perhaps by as much as half, even though the total Vietnamese population has exploded. In 2001, several thousand Montagnards held a series of peaceful demonstrations in response to the confiscation of their ancestral land and to crackdowns on their freedom to worship.

The Vietnamese government met the demonstrators with force, injuring and arresting hundreds and prompting over a thousand more to flee to Cambodia.

Ever since, Vietnam's Montagnards have been subject to increasing intimidation and violence, a fact that came to international attention during Easter of 2004, when security forces attacked demonstrators killing several - some say hundreds - and wounding many more. The lack of religious liberty is widespread in Vietnam, despite some reported improvements in recent years.

The banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, once the largest Buddhist organization in the country, has found its monks and members sentenced and monitored, and its top two leaders confined to their monasteries for years.

Mennonite Christians have been arrested, sentenced, and beaten. And the Hmong, hill tribes living in the north, have been pressured to renounce their Christian faith through monitoring, detention, torture, and sometimes fatal assaults. In fact, conditions are so bad that in 2004 the State Department designated Vietnam a "country of particular concern" (CPC) with regard to religious freedom.

According to Freedom House, the think tank that measures degrees of freedom around the globe, Vietnam is not quite as restrictive as North Korea but less free than Iran and Egypt.

This year it received a seven, the worst possible score, in political rights and a six in civil liberties, making its average the same as that of China, Eritrea, and Uzbekistan.

"Vietnam is similar to China in its policy of registration and treatment of non-registered groups," says Paul Marshall of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, "but in Vietnam you get the additional factor of assaults on the Montagnards and Hmongs."

Vietnam allows religious organizations to register with the government, but rather than promoting religious freedom such registration can curtail it, bringing the groups under Hanoi's control and creating what one observer pithily called "religions with socialist orientations."

Open Doors, a Christian organization that each year ranks countries according to their levels of religious freedom, places Vietnam at number three, behind North Korea and Saudi Arabia, on its list of countries most hostile to Christianity. Spurred in part by the CPC designation, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom John Hanford reached an agreement on religious liberty with Hanoi on May 5 of this year. (Hanoi is clearly concerned about the CPC label, as the U.S. is now its number-one trading partner.) The exact details of the agreement have not been made public, so it's difficult to evaluate Hanoi's commitment.

While twelve political prisoners were released shortly before the agreement was signed, several Vietnam-watchers say little if anything has changed since, and urge the United States not to reward Hanoi until it makes concrete improvements. "We wouldn't mind seeing relations prosper," says Sereivuth Prak, a Khmer Krom who flew from California to attend the Washington rally. "But relations should not come at the expense of the people."

Helen Ngo of the Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam, a group formed after the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, says economic development is important for Vietnam, but right now "it just helps the high-ranking officers in the country. For a few people who live in the city, maybe they can get a little bit of benefit, but the people who live in the countryside cannot." Reports of improvement in human-rights conditions in Vietnam should also be taken with a grain of salt, some say.

"Khai is a master of deception, a symbol of broken promises," says Penelope Faulkner of the Paris-based Action for Democracy in Vietnam, a human-rights group.

In 2003, she says, "Khai made an incredible gesture by holding talks with the dissident leader of the Buddhist church in Hanoi. But just several months later he launched a very brutal crackdown against the Buddhist church."

While Khai was talking trade, military ties, and religious freedom at the White House, the Unified Buddhist Church reported that a delegation of monks was intercepted and detained by security forces on their way to visit Thich Huyen Quang, the church's patriarch, at the monastery where he is under house arrest. "Vietnam has become very media savvy," says Faulkner. "Instead of organizing big trials, they do everything behind the scenes - this question of house arrest, isolating people, threatening them. It is happening every day, but there's no trace on paper."

Kok Ksor, the founder and president of the Montagnard group that demonstrated near the White House during Khai's meeting with Bush, says he wants the presence of international observers in the Central Highlands, where the Montagnards live, to force the Vietnamese government to think twice before further mistreating them.

As it is, outside access to that area is limited, often leaving the authorities to behave as they wish. Ksor's family history, as he tells it, sounds like the recent history of his people writ small: His father died in the Vietnam War; one brother fled to Cambodia only to be arrested and turned back to Vietnam; another was arrested and returned home blind. His octogenarian mother had three ribs broken by the police, he says, and is still threatened to give up her faith. "Someone asked me, How come your people believe in God?" Ksor answers, "This is why: When the French controlled Vietnam, we depended on the French to help us, yet they deserted us. During the Vietnam War, we depended on the Americans - they deserted us too.

Now that we are in the hands of the enemy, who do you think we can turn to? The only one we can turn to right now is God." And they can hardly do that, at least not openly. There are legitimate economic, military, and geopolitical arguments for U.S. ties with Vietnam.

But as so many Vietnamese Americans reminded President Bush last month with their protests, greater benefits should be offered Hanoi only when they are met with internal reforms. The U.S. has plenty of leverage on this issue. There is therefore no reason for the Bush administration, so concerned with the spread of liberty, to allow the United States to again fail its freedom-hungry allies in Vietnam.

Related Links
· Amnesty International
· Montagnard Foundation
· More about Vietnam War - Montagnards

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