Vietnamese Police Track Down Montagnard Refugees in Thailand and Urge Them to Return

Vietnamese Police Track Down Montagnard Refugees in Thailand and Urge Them to Return

Police Officers Come and Persuade Montagnard Refugees in Thailand to Return 

On March 14, a group of plainclothes Vietnamese police officers led by the Royal Thai Police visited a residential boarding area of Montagnard refugees in Nonthaburi Province, located about 20 kilometers from Bangkok, RFA Vietnamese reported.

A Montagnard refugee, who requested anonymity, told RFA that eight Vietnamese police officers came to the area. While two officers talked to the refugees, the remaining six officers used cell phones and cameras to film and take photos of the refugees.

The Vietnamese police accused the Montagnard refugees of illegally leaving Vietnam and crossing the border into Thailand. According to the refugees, the police officers urged them to return to Vietnam, promising them legal leniency and material support from the government. The officers said the Montagnards living in Thailand would be arrested and face other difficulties if they did not return.

On March 6, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) designated two overseas groups representing indigenous people in the Central Highlands – the Montagnard Support Group (MSSG), and Montagnards for Justice (MSFJ) – as “terrorist organizations.” Both organizations have denied the accusations.

Ho Chi Minh City Proposes Higher Funding for Local Grassroots Security Forces

At a regular meeting on March 14, Bui Xuan Cuong, vice chairman of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, proposed increasing funding for the city’s self-defense forces by an additional 123 billion dong ($4.97 million) a year, a roughly 30% increase from its current funding of 326 billion dong. He suggested that the city will need to spend another 21.7 billion a year on this force's commanders' and deputy commanders’ salaries, food, and uniforms.

The suggested funding will come from the city’s budget.

According to Cuong, this extra budget will be used for monthly allowances, clothing purchases, health insurance, and equipment purchases for the local self-defense forces, a part-time militia tasked with upholding grassroots order and monitoring neighborhoods. 

On Nov. 28, 2023, Vietnam’s National Assembly passed the Law on Grassroots Security Protection, merging three semi-specialized security forces, including the commune police, the self-defense team, and its commanders and deputy commanders. The law was hastily passed after several gunmen attacked two government headquarters in the Central Highlands of Dak Lak Province, where they killed three officials and three bystanders and also injured several policemen.

The proposed law also allocates 3.5 trillion dong ($145 million) annually to provide weapons, uniforms, badges, vehicles, and other equipment for this new grassroots police force.

Many Vietnamese lawmakers in the National Assembly have expressed their concerns that forming these task forces could burden Vietnam’s national budget. Meanwhile, some Vietnamese citizens worry that these local security forces might abuse their power and commit more abuses against civilians if given broader powers and financial means.

Vietnam Urges Respect for International Law in Response to China’s Gulf Of Tonkin Baseline

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesperson issued a statement on May 14 urging respect for international law and the rights and interests of other countries. The statement was in response to China’s demarcation of territory in the Gulf of Tonkin.

On March 1, the Chinese foreign ministry announced the establishment of a new baseline for maritime territory in the northern part of the Gulf of Tonkin. The Chinese declaration claimed that the development was based on the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone,” enacted on Feb. 25, 1992. The baseline comprises a series of geographical coordinates that determine the boundary of China’s alleged territorial waters.

“Vietnam holds that coastal countries abide by UNCLOS 1982 when determining the baseline for measuring their territorial waters,” Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a press conference, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Dr. Bill Hayton, a journalist who published a book on the South China Sea, disputed and told RFA that the China-announced baseline “looks incompatible” with the wording of UNCLOS. He added that China’s decision would not impact the situation as the median line between Vietnam and China has already been defined. 

Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told the South China Morning Post that Hanoi should refrain from publicly commenting on the issue until all aspects are clearly understood. Giang added that the new baseline grants China broader claims over its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone and could further complicate the maritime situation in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Vietnam Political Prisoner Faces Health Problems in Prolonged Solitary Confinement 

Nam Ha Prison, located in Ha Nam Province, has been holding political prisoner Nguyen Duc Hung in solitary confinement for 18 months despite the Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments, which only permits a maximum disciplinary period of 10 days. Hung’s family told Radio Free Asia (RFA) about his situation.

Hung, 33, is an activist who campaigned against the Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, which discharged its untreated wastewater and caused pollution on Vietnam’s coastline in 2016. He was arrested in 2022 on charges of “distributing anti-state propaganda” and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in a trial without a lawyer.

The prison refused to let Nguyen Sen, Hung’s father, visit his son in August 2022, saying that Hung was being disciplined for receiving noodles from a fellow political prisoner.

Sen learned that his son was still kept in solitary confinement as punishment when he visited him again last month. He added that Hung suffered from stomach pain and headaches, and the symptoms only got worse because he was confined in his cell for a long period. Meanwhile, although Hung is short-sighted, the Nam Ha Prison reportedly did not allow him to receive the spectacles that his family sent him.

Police Intensify Interrogations of Families of Political Prisoners

Vietnam's police have sent the wives of political prisoners numerous summons for questioning over the past week, indicating a new harassment campaign against the families of prisoners of conscience.

Those summoned for questioning include Trinh Thi Nhung, Le Thi Ha, Do Thi Thu, and Nguyen Thi Tinh, all spouses of Vietnamese political prisoners serving sentences ranging between five and 10 years for allegedly “distributing anti-state propaganda against the government.” The police also summoned Nguyen Thi Mai, the daughter of female prisoner Nguyen Thi Tam.

The interrogations primarily focused on these women’s postings and other activities on social media platforms. The wives of political prisoners added that they found the repeated police summons for interrogations annoying because it interfered with their daily lives. In many cases, Vietnamese police have also urged them to convince their husbands to sign confession letters that admit their “anti-state activities.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Land Law Evolution

East Asia Forum/ Phuc Hai Tran/ March 14

“In the end, the Vietnam 2024 Land Law does not reflect the triumph of statist will or market force. But the border of their sphere of influence has been redrawn to address the cost of high growth. From the state’s perspective, the impact of the 2023 real estate crash, stemming from regulatory tightening, has considerably challenged its role as the adjudicator of the land economy.”

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