Over Christmas, state-run newspapers announced that government forces successfully thwarted a demonstration planned for Christmas Eve. “Plots to create disturbances on Christmas Eve have been completely spoiled,” announced state-run Thanh Nien (Youth) newspaper. According to government sources, informants tipped off government officials to possible demonstrations this July.
During Easter 2004, 10,000 ethnic minority villagers had staged demonstrations in protests of government land confiscation and other forms of persecution leveled on their villages. Many of the individuals involved in the protest allegedly came from pre-dominantly protestant villages.
The demonstration was reportedly put to a quick and abrupt end as officers allegedly beat up and arrested demonstrators. A few demonstrators were reportedly killed in this incident. The systematic government crackdown that followed drove additional villagers to take refuge under U.N. protection in neighboring Cambodia.
Since the beginning of government crackdowns in 2001, many ethnic minority villagers collectively known as the Montagnards have escaped to Cambodia. Many Montagnards claim to be Christian.
In the days leading to Christmas, government officials paid visits to 400 religious groups and clergy. In a statement released by Pham The Dung, head of the Gia Lai province's People's Committee, referred to the planned demonstration as “plots by the reactionary forces…to coerce and incite ethnic minority members who are religious followers to participate in protests and rebellion on Christmas.”
He continued by stating how church leaders were warned not to participate in such activities. The government went as far as placing roadblocks on main roads leading to the provincial capital.
According to state-run news agencies, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung directed key Foreign Ministry official, Nguyen Duc Hung to meet representatives from the United States, Canadian, and Australian embassy officials. European Union and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representatives were also invited to attend the meeting on Christmas Eve last Friday.
In the meeting, Hung reportedly told envoys that the Vietnamese government would use all measures under its disposal to ensure security in the central highlands, in reference to the recent government action in that area. Hung also warned U.S. officials to not support groups such as the Mongtagnard Foundation – whom government officials place sole blame for instigating the protests in Easter 2004. Hung has also asked U.S. officials to not support exile-groups such as the Montagnard Foundation.
So far, no less than 1,000 ethnic minority members have fled Vietnam's Central Highlands to refugee camps in Cambodia. Many of them claim to be Christian, making allegations that the government has persecuted them.