Thousands of Viet-Hmong Christians, who are staging mass protests demanding religious freedom and land reforms, have been attacked by Vietnam and Laos security forces. Dozens were killed and more were wounded with hundreds have gone missing since last Tuesday. The Hmong are a distinct ethnic group, most of which are Christian.

“At least 17 Viet-Hmong Christians were killed and 33 wounded on 3 May in the Dien Bien Province, and Dien Bien Phu, areas of Vietnam bordering Laos in attacks by Vietnam People's Army military forces. All of these people were Catholic and Protestant Christian believers,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, DC. “Additionally, eleven independent Viet-Hmong animist believers were also known, and confirmed, to have been killed on the same day by Vietnam People's Army forces,” he added in the 6 May CPPA press release.

Local Catholic sources in the diocese of Hung Hoa told VietCatholic News that “mass protest broke out on 30 April, with some 7,000 Viet-Hmong Catholics marching on the provincial towns of Mng Né to demand the return of their lands and religious freedom.”

“In response, the government launched an aggressive crackdown on 3 May, dispatching military and police units to seal off the region and attacking peaceful protestors,” the source continued emphasizing that military units from Laotian provinces of Xieng Khouang, Khammoune, Luang Prabang were sent to the area to arrest all those who try to flee to Laos from Dien Bien province.

“Even ground attack helicopters have engaged to hunt, arrest, and kill those who are trying to flee from the unrest regions.” the source added.

“39 people were killed and hundreds missing,” the latest report from local Catholics on 7 May stated.

Mùa An Son, chairman of the Dien Bien Province, blamed the incident for “hostile forces infiltrated to illegally preach and incite the people to join an independent movement calling for the establishment of a separate kingdom of Hmong people.”

On Friday 6 May, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga gave another account of the incident saying that an illusory religious quest and unhygienic conditions killed the Hmong, not her government. “Hmong people had gathered since early May and camped in unsanitary conditions believing that a ‘supernatural force’ would arrive to lead them to ‘a promised land’,” she said.

Countering government claims, Catholic sources pointed out that the incident is an inevitable result of a series of violations of land ownership and religious freedom.

“Companies owned by Armed Forces Chief of Staff of Vietnam, General Tran Quang Khue and other generals who dominate the politburo in Vietnam have been driving local Hmong communities out of their home lands,” a source said.

The Vietnamese government prohibits foreign journalists from traveling freely to the area.