Authorities have stepped up their harassment of minority Christians in Vietnam's Western Highlands. The crackdown follows the largest anti-government protests in Vietnam since 1975.

Some 20,000 Montagnard people were protesting the seizure of tribal lands for the government-controlled coffee export business. Montagnards, who call themselves Dega, belong to five ethnic groups in the region. Immediately after the demonstrations, which began in February, authorities admitted the legitimacy of the land grievances. When officials discovered a link between some of the protesters and an American exile group, however, they instigated a massive crackdown.

Government propaganda says that the Protestant faith is American and that Vietnamese Protestants merely seek political independence. There are an estimated 500,000 Protestants and 200,000 Roman Catholics among the Dega in the Western Highlands. The majority of the Protestants are related to the southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam, which was granted legal recognition in April.

Protestants report that up to 20 leaders of local congregations have been taken away by security forces in Dak Lak province. Many more are reported incarcerated or missing in Gia Lai province.

In addition, a campaign against Hmong Christians in the northwest provinces also continues, and several hundred families have fled south to Dak Lak province.

Related Elsewhere:

The Asia Times extensively examined the reports of fleeing citizens that have embarrassed the Vietnamese.

Hundreds have fled and 41 people are to be put on trial in connection with the anti-government protests which began February.

Vietnamese-Americans have protested the clampdown on religious freedoms.

The U.S. State Department has reports on Vietnam's ...

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