For Cambodia Free, Democracy, Justice and Honor
ដើម្បី សេរីភាព ប្រជាធិបតេយ្យភាព យុត្តិធម៌ និង កិត្តិយស
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO) : Under South Vietnam Rule
Under South Vietnam Rule
II. UNDER SOUTH VIETNAM’S RULE (1955-1975) — 20 YEARS
A. Under Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime (1955-1963) — 8 Years
After Ngo Dinh Diem acceded to power as President of the Republic of South Vietnam, he ruled the Montagnards with an iron hand:
On May 27, 1946, Montagnard autonomy, granted by the French Government, was completely eliminated. Diem annexed the Central Highlands territory, Pays Montagnard Du Sud (PMS), and it became part of the national territory of the Republic of Vietnam under the administration of the South Vietnamese Government in Saigon. Diem appointed Mr. Ton That Hoi, a Vietnamese, as the government administrator in Buon Ama Thuot (Ban Me Thuot). In the seven provinces in the Central Highlands, Diem replaced Montagnard province chiefs with Vietnamese for better control.
The Montagnard people were placed under the domination of the South Vietnam government and classified as an ethnic minority in their ancestral lands to be assimilated into the Vietnamese culture sphere.
Diem completely disarmed the Montagnards, confiscating traditional swords, spears and crossbows used for hunting giving them to Vietnamese who were recently resettled on Montagnard lands in the central Highlands. This left the Montagnard people totally exposed to attacks by tigers and other jungle animals.
The thirteen Montagnard battalions that had been part of the French army were reorganized and integrated into the South Vietnamese army and forced to take Vietnamese names. All Montagnard officers lost their commands and were replaced Vietnamese. These battalions served in the coastal provinces, where the Vietnamese soldiers held the Montagnards in disdain because they did not speak the Vietnamese language. These battalions were later disbanded.
Diem resettled one million, mainly Catholic, North Vietnamese refugees on the most fertile Montagnard lands in the Central Highlands. Montagnards were relocated from their villages, which were then taken over by the Vietnamese. The Montagnard people were forcibly relocated on less fertile lands where farming was difficult, and they could not make a living. Many Montagnard leaders who opposed Diem were jailed or killed, falsely charged with being pro-North Vietnamese communist.
Diem prohibited teaching Montagnard languages and burned all documents and books in the Montagnard dialects. He abolished tribal courts, the right to life, land property rights, and refused to recognize the Montagnards as the rightful owners of the land in the Central Highlands where they had lived in for centuries.
The primary schools and high schools that served Montagnard students were turned over to the Vietnam government and given Vietnamese names. The schools forced Montagnard students to speak only the Vietnamese language and forced those who were not fluent in the Vietnamese language to leave school.
Diem applied a series of inhumane policies to assimilate the Montagnard people into the Vietnamese cultural sphere by compelling the Montagnard military men and civil servants to take Vietnamese names and by changing Montagnard names of villages, provinces, rivers, mountains and streams to Vietnamese names. Diem immediately initiated a new policy of oppression and expansionism to subjugate the Montagnard people, a plan that the Vietnamese had been developing for a long time. He turned the Montagnards into actual indentured slaves. In Vietnamese society, Montagnards had no basic human rights. They lived under a cloud of oppression and were victimized by the South Vietnamese, just as they were victimized by others before the War.
In 1956, the War between North and South Vietnam began.
The Montagnard people in the Central Highlands were once again caught in the middle, this time between the two Vietnamese governments.
On October 26, 1956, the National Independence Day of the South Vietnamese government; the Montagnard people presented President Ngo Dinh Diem a white elephant, which according to Montagnard tradition, meant congratulations and blessings. Honoring him in this manner was very important according to custom, signifying a truly special gift, occurring rarely in the history of the Montagnard people.
The gift of a white and beautiful elephant is sacred, precious, and signifies great honor and importance. It represented how the Montagnards offered their trust and their deepest respect to President Diem. This trust would soon be betrayed and destroyed by the Diem policies towards the Montagnards.
On April 23, 1957, Diem’s Land Development Program was established and 6,700,000hectares of Montagnard farmland in the Central Highlands, the Pays Montagnard Du Sud (PMS), were expropriated for Vietnamese resettlement, in areas where 95% of the inhabitants were Montagnard people. The Vietnamese government claimed that rudimentary farming methods used by the Montagnards were an extremely wasteful type of cultivation; even though western scientists concluded that their rotational system of farming was the soundest method of farming the red lateritic clay soils.
The Diem government wanted to wipe out all the French influence in the Central Highlands. It ignored the reaction of the Montagnard leaders. The Diem regime believed that the Montagnard people were backward minorities, and would easily be assimilated into the Vietnamese type of village life.
Many thousands of Montagnard villagers were forced to move out of their homes, farms and resettled along the trails of the national road, which they could be easily controlled by the Diem government. The Diem government then continued to settle thousands of Vietnamese (Kinh people) from the lowlands into the Central Highlands where they occupied Montagnard villages and farm land.
At the same time, the North Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh conducted a parallel program of their own and systematically relocated several thousand Montagnards (Katu tribe) in Quang Nam into the jungle to use as slave labor to grow crops for the communists and to move ammunition and other supplies from the North to South Vietnam.
After the Geneva Agreements in 1954, the Montagnards enjoyed four very short years of false peace in the Central Highlands. After which, the Montagnard people were again forced to leave their villages and were resettled along the roads under the Land Development Program of President Ngo Dinh Diem and Wolf Ladejinsky, his American advisor. This program, called the“Assimilation Program (AP)”, began to destroy the indigenous Montagnard peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
Y Bham Enuol Founder of the Montagnard Independence Movement
To answer this threat, Montagnard leaders, led by Y-Bham Enuol, formed the BAJARAKA Movement (derived from a combination of key letters of the names of the Bahnar, Jarai, Rhade and Koho tribes) to resist assimilation policies and to regain the right of self-determination and autonomy granted by the French on May 27, 1946. BAJARAKA’s goal was to make the Central Highlands a separate nation with its own army, while living peacefully with the Vietnamese people.
In 1958, President Diem crushed theBAJARAKA movement by force, resulting in the death of some of the leaders and others were imprisoned for six years including: Y-Bham Enuol, Nay Luett, Paul Nur, Y-Thih Eban, Ksor Sip, Touneh Yoh and Y-Ju Eban.
Another Montagnard leader, Y-Bih Aleo, fled to the jungle hoping find outside world support for the movement. Unfortunately, he met up with Y-Ngong Nie Kdam, Y- Blok Eban, Ksor Ni, Rcom Thep, who had joined the communists and were with a part of a North Vietnamese group that was actively propagandizing Montagnard villages in violation of the Geneva Convention. Y-Bih joined the communists. Many other non-communist Montagnard leaders and followers went underground to continue the BAJARAKA resistance inside South Vietnam.
In 1960, Ho Chi Minh created the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NFL) to overthrow the South Vietnam government. This movement appealed to many Montagnard tribal groups who opposed the Saigon regime; however, they did not realize that the NFL was nothing but a front for the North Vietnamese communists.
At the same time, in order to draw the more Montagnards to the communist’s side of the war, Ho Chi Minh created a movement called “Front for the West Liberation of the Central Highlands” and used Y-Bih Aleo as the puppet Chairman. Ho Chi Minh falsely promised to restore autonomy to the Montagnards after victory over South Vietnam was achieved. For this reason, Ho Chi Minh conscripted and recruited thousands of young Montagnards living in remote areas to fight and die for the benefit of the North Vietnamese communists.
Both the North and South Vietnamese governments had the same goals: to destroy, exterminate, and assimilate the Montagnards and to occupy Montagnard land. This abominable cruelty has brought suffering and death to the Montagnards throughout their history.
In 1961, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited and trained hundreds of the Montagnards in a hamlet self-defense program against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communist forces who secretly entered Montagnard villages to kill their leaders. The Montagnards were injected squarely into the middle of the conflict between the Viet Cong and the armies of both South Vietnam and North Vietnam.
1961-1972, the United States backed South Vietnam in Vietnam War. The American Special Forces recruited and trained thousands of Montagnard troops, who fought alongside American soldiers with bravery, loyalty and friendship. Our understanding was that the Americans would help our Montagnard people to regain our autonomous state, peace and freedom, but our dreams and hopes did not come true. We were harassed, abused and exterminated by the governments of both North and South Vietnam.
On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese military forces overthrew the Diem regime. The United States Embassy in Saigon convinced General Nguyen Khanh, leader of the new military government, to release the imprisoned Montagnard leaders. Y-Bham Enuol and six other BAJARAKA leaders were released on February 12, 1964.
B. Under General Nguyen Van Thieu’s regime (1964-1975)
Soon after his release, the Saigon government appointed Y-Bham Enuol as Assistant Province Chief of Daklak Province to conciliate Montagnard aspirations and to prevent another potential uprising. It appeared that the Montagnard vision and dream for the Central Highlands was beginning to come true. The Montagnard peoples’ struggle was not for position or power, but for the right to live in peace, and freedom with the right to self-determination for Montagnard in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
However, the military government of Saigon continued to oppress the Montagnard people, just as the Diem regime had done, ignoring the problems created by the Diem Administration.
FULRO Leadership in the jungle at table- Commander Y Ghok Nie Krieng (in suit) Rong Nay ( white shirt)
Y-Bham Enuol and other Montagnard leaders were compelled to change their direction of struggle and organized a new underground front called Front de Liberation des Hauts-Plateaux Montagnard (FLHPM — The Montagnard Highlands Liberation Front). This was not widely publicized, since Y Bham was hardly known by anyone in the free world countries. The Khmer Krom and Champa people in Cambodia wanted to take advantage of this occasion for their own movement. They asked to join Y-Bham Enuol and a new front called Front Unifie De Lutte De La Races Opprimee (FULRO) was organized on August 1, 1964. This united front was only to combine forces in order to defeat common enemies. The organization and administration were independently decided according to the will of each people. All three fronts consented to take Mr. Y- Bham Enuol as Chairman.
Rong Nay Second in Command at the FULRO outpost in the jungle
On September 20, 1964, the Montagnards, now under FULRO, rose up again, rebelling in seven Special Forces camps and Darlak, Pleiku and Quan Duc provinces, and carried out coordinated gun battles against South Vietnamese government forces in the major cities of the Central Highlands. The purpose was to remind the Vietnamese government that it must satisfy the Montagnard people’s legal aspiration for self-determination.
This rebellion was very serious and created a lot of trouble and concern by the South Vietnamese government, which responded by using forces to repress and destroy the Montagnard resistance; both sides paid a dear price in dead and wounded. Finally, Y-Bham Enuol had to leave the Central Highlands and took refuge in exile in the Mondukiri province in Cambodia. The remaining Montagnards continued the struggle in the Central Highlands.
On February 25, 1965, the Conference of Indochina people opened at Phnom-Penh with delegation from 24 countries. Y-Bham Enuol addressed the gathering, outlining the goals of FULRO in its struggle to gain justice for the Montagnards whom he now referred to as Anak Cu Chiang in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. On July 29, 1965, FULRO mounted another revolt at Buon Brieng. The Vietnamese government reacted by arresting and executing 600 FULRO followers.
Nevertheless, all of the problems faced by the Montagnards continued to be ignored and remained unresolved. On December 18-19, 1965, there were more gunfights in Pleiku, Cheo Reo and Dak Nong provinces where hundreds on both sides were wounded or killed, resulting in the Vietnamese government executing 200 Montagnards most of who had no connection with FULRO.
As a result of this revolt, the Saigon government reacted with a series of inhumane and repressive actions. They arrested 1,000 FULRO Resistance members, who were then jailed and secretly killed. The Saigon government sentenced four Montagnard FULRO Resistance members to death. Their names were: Nay Ry, Ksor Bleo, Rcom Re and Ksor Boh. Australian Radio, in its broadcast on December 20, along with many other nations, criticized the Vietnamese government for its barbarism.
On May 4, 1967, Y-Bham Enuol proposed that the Saigon government accept the following eight points of the Montagnard people’s aspirations:
To accord a special statute and a special constitution for the Montagnard people.
To set up a special commission for Montagnard affairs at Buon Ama Thuot, the capital of the Montagnard Republic, Plateaus Montagnard Du Sud (PMS).
To permit recruitment and organization of Montagnard Armed Forces.
To return to the Central Highlands all Montagnard civil servants and military men on duty outside Montagnard territory.
To permit the Montagnard people to receive aid directly from the United States of America or from other nations.
To raise the Montagnard flag to the same height as the Vietnamese flag.
The borders of the Central Highlands would be demarcated, provided that the Montagnard people could regain their autonomy.
To agree to the participation of the Montagnard people in another Geneva Conference or in other international conferences to resolve issues.
The Saigon government was recalcitrant; and continued its inhumane policies and refused the Montagnards’ demands. Montagnard troops continued to fight with the South against the North Vietnamese communists, a contradiction for both sides.
On December 1967, North Vietnamese troops using flamethrowers killed over 300 Montagnards (Stieng) refugees at Dak Song.
During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the Viet Cong forces overran Banmethuot, Pleiku, Kontum and Dalat. The Vietnamese Communist used Montagnard villages as shields to cover their assault on the towns. In Hue City, Vietnamese Communist troops invaded and executed 80 Montagnard students who were living in a boarding school of the Ministry for Ethnic Minority Development.
After 4 years of cooperating with the common Front, Y-Bham Enuol discovered that Kampuchea North and Champa Front were only using the Montagnard people in an attempt to claim territory of the Central Highlands in Vietnam for themselves. Furthermore, the Cambodian intelligence services were using this situation to cause further mischief for the Vietnamese government in Saigon.
On July 15, 1968, Y-Bham Enuol decided to withdraw completely from FULRO and declared a new front called Front de Liberation des Hauts-Plateaux Montagnard (FLHPM — The Montagnard Highlands Liberation Front). He declared that the ultimate goal of the Montagnards’ responsibilities and interests was to regain the Central Highlands’ sovereignty and integrity. This decision was made known clearly to the Saigon government on this same date.
On September 1968, President Nguyen Van Thieu consented to meet with Mr. Y-Bham Enuol in Saigon to discuss his eight-point proposal. No concrete decision was made at the end of the meeting. Meanwhile the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly violent with the Central Highlands the scene of several large battles. The American and South Vietnamese bombed the Montagnard villages. The Vietnamese communist forces mounted night assaults on the Montagnard villages, killing men, women, children and elderly huddled in bunkers.
President Thieu used the time as a weapon to delay finding an appropriate response to the aspiration of the Montagnard people. Consequently, after the Saigon meeting, Y-Bham Enuol returned to FLHPM’s Central seat in Cambodia.
On December 1968, the a faction within FULRO, now FLHPM, with backing by Cambodian intelligence services threatened to use force against Y-Bham Enuol and his family informing them that they had to move to Phnom Penh. Y- Bham Enuol was forced into isolation and put under house-arrest, and his political plan was in limbo as a result of his withdrawal from the consolidated FULRO front and the fact that he had organized a new Montagnard front before meeting with President Nguyen Thieu on September 1968.
Even though his political vision was now isolated, Y-Bham Enuol still secretly stayed in contact with Nay Luett who was the Minister for Ethnic Minority Development in Saigon. Y-Bham had sent Ya Mrang as his personal staff to stay with Nay Luett in his house in Saigon. He believed Nay Luett and his American advisor would continue to put pressure on the Saigon Administration to resolve the problems. At the same time, Nay Luett had finished a project building University Boarding school at Tan Quy Dong for 300 Montagnard students. This is the first time in the Montagnard history that the South Vietnam had done a favor at the request of the Montagnards.
Early in 1972, the North Vietnamese attacked Kontum and Binh Long provinces. The situation of the Montagnards in the Central Highlands became dangerous. Nay Luett, Minister for Ethnic Minority Development, was well aware that the North Vietnamese Communists would possibly destroy the Montagnard people.
The United States military units withdrew and defense of the Central Highlands was left in the hands of South Vietnamese troops who suffered under bad leadership and had no real desire to fight and defend the region.
For this reason, Nay Luett proposed to organize a 50,000 member strong Montagnard Force, with support from the United States, to defend the Montagnard people in the Central Highlands; however, the South Vietnamese government and the American Ambassador refused to even consider it.
Nay Luett also proposed a plan to regroup all the Montagnard people to the provinces of Kontum, Pleiku, Daklak, Cheo Reo, Quang Duc, Tuyen Duc and Lam Dong in the Central Highlands for defense. The Saigon government and the United States Ambassador were distrustful of the Montagnards, because both wanted to protect the many Vietnamese military and civilian officials who coveted the rich land of the Central Highlands. This proposal was also rejected.
On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam continued its sweeping offensive and attacked many important strategic military targets and Montagnard villages in the Central Highlands. Many Montagnard leaders were killed. During the fighting, B-52’s dropped thousands of bombs on Montagnard villages in an attempt by the United States to stop the communist offensive. Over 200,000 Montagnard people perished and 85% of the villages were destroyed. Because of the fighting, many Montagnards were forced to leave their villages and became refugees. The wounded, homeless, starving and sick Montagnards died by thousands.
On October 20, 1973, Y-Bham Enuol decided to write a letter to nominate Kpa Koi as vice-president of the FLHPM. At that time, Kpa Koi was the Agriculture Chief in Ban Me Thuot. After resigning, he reorganized and consolidated the Montagnard forces in the jungle, and continued to struggle and demand that the Vietnamese government satisfy the eight points proposed by Y-Bham Enuol.
The United States Armed Forces withdrew from Vietnam following a cease-fire agreement with the North Vietnamese in 1973. All the Montagnard Special Forces units were transformed into Vietnamese units and renamed Border Ranger Forces (Luc Luong Bien Phong). They were used as first-strike forces and deployed along the Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam borders to block the movement of troops and equipment from the North to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As a result, thousands of Montagnard troops were killed along the borders.
One company of regular forces consisting of 156 soldiers, commanded by Captain Rcom Cham, was dropped in the middle of the Viet Cong forces in the Benhet area, North Kontum. No one came out alive.
In December 1974, South Vietnam’s President Thieu stated that the Montagnard people would protect their own land. The government planned to withdraw its military forces if North Vietnam launched an attack against the Central Highlands and declare it a free-fire zone. The Montagnards would be forced to abandon the area while being exposed in a free bombing zone. Why did president Thieu plan to withdraw military forces from Central Highlands and proposed a free bombing zone? Was this an attempt at ethnic cleansing?
Truly, President Thieu used this situation to destroy the Montagnard people in the Central Highlands. Why did the South government delay responding to the aspirations of the Montagnards and abandoned the Central Highlands to the hands of communist North Vietnam?
On March 9-10, 1975, the North Vietnamese forces overran Ban Me Thuot (Buon Ama Thuot), Pleiku, Kontum, Dak Nong, and Dalat and occupied many Montagnard villages that became bases to attack the cities in the Central Highlands.
On March 11, 1975, the South Vietnamese Government’s Air Force bombed Buon Pan Lam, killing 125 Montagnards and wounded 210. The entire village was burnt to the ground and the Montagnards were forced to run empty-handed from their homes like animals. The Montagnard people experienced much suffering: no place to live; no clothes, blankets or food; and no medical supplies for the sick and wounded. They lived outdoors like animals without protection. It was ever so pitiful.
On March 24, 1975 – a dark day in history, President Thieu, in his last meeting with his cabinet reluctantly gave his approval to freely bomb the Central Highlands. Thieu informed three high-level American officials that he was withdrawing his forces from the Central Highlands and requested that the US Air Force consider the Central Highlands as a free bombing zone.
Thieu pointed out that the Central Highlands would have to be given up. If the Montagnard people wanted to stay and fight for their independence, they would have to face danger and death from the bombing. Thieu used this opportunity to further destroy the Montagnards.
On April 4, 1975, Nay Luett, Minister for Ethnic Minority Development, and many other Montagnard leaders, met with George Jacobson, Assistant to the US Ambassador, Lamar Prosser and Edward Sprague. Nay Luett asked for protection for the Montagnard leaders and people because he knew genocide would be committed upon the Montagnard people by both the bombing and by the North Vietnamese communists, but Jacobson refused and assured them that the South Vietnamese government would only defend Saigon.
THE BROKEN PROMISE TO THE MONTAGNARD PEOPLE
When the Communist forces closed in on Saigon, there was no attempt by the American mission to evacuate any Montagnard leaders at the Ministry, and only a few escaped on their own. Edmund Sprague served with the U.S. Department of State in South Vietnam from 1969-1975. He was a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the Central Highlands of South Vietnam as Ethnic Minority Advisor and the Province Senior Advisor, Phu Bon Province.
Sprague was a steadfast friend of the Montagnards. He spoke and understood the Jarai dialect and he was dedicated to the Montagnard people, their survival, and their well-being. Sprague’s American wife and children visited several times with the Montagnard Jarai people in the Cheo Reo/Phu Bon area. His concern for the Montagnards continued until the day he died, many years later in the U.S. During the final days of the war, Edmund Sprague was the last American to leave Phu Bon province on an Air America flight to Nha trang.
In Nha Trang at that time, the U.S. Consulate General was headed by Moncrief Spear. Sprague briefed Mr. Spear on the Phu Bon situation and he expressed his deep concern about the Montagnards.. Spear assured him that if things got worse, the U.S. was prepared to take care of the Montagnards. While he was in Nha Trang, Sprague was assigned to congregate all Montagnards on the beach at one location. The plan at this time was that the U.S. Navy Ships would come to evacuate the Montagnards. Tragically, as subsequent events would reveal, while American and Vietnamese employees were evacuated to Saigon, the plan for the U.S. Navy ships to pick up the Montagnards on the beach had been canceled.
On April 1, 1975, Edmund Sprague was able to get on the last plane to Saigon and he was assigned as Advisor to the Minister of Ethnic Minority Development, Mr. Nay Luett. On April 2, 1975, Sprague met with U.S. Ambassador Martin. He briefed the ambassador on the Montagnard situation and requested the plan for the U.S. Navy to pick up the Montagnards on the Nha Trang beach and evacuate Montagnard leaders and their families at the Ministry. Ambassador Martin stated that other priorities had come up and the Montagnards would not be picked up or rescued. Sprague lost his temper and told him that “the blood of thousands of Montagnards” would be on his hands. Ambassador Martin immediately ordered him to leave Vietnam. Sprague would not leave.
On April 4, 1975, a meeting was conducted with Mr. Jacobson, Special Assistant to the Ambassador Martin, Colonel Lamar Prosser and Sprague, Minister Nay Luett, Senator Ksor Rot, Toneh Han Tho, Nay Alep, Y-Jut Buonto, and others. Minister Nay Luett opened the meeting with a desperate appeal for the Montagnard people. He asked for U.S. support so they could continue resisting the North Vietnamese until the South Vietnam government could regroup and prepare for the return of U.S. support.
Toneh Han Tho, assistant to Nay Luett, described to everyone the Montagnard and American friendship. He stated:
“You are our friends, we are your friends. We believe in you and need your protection. It is your duty. Thousands will die immediately if the North Vietnamese take over. If there is no U.S. support for Montagnard resistance and if this is not approved, we need political asylum.”
Mr. Jacobson responded that the U.S. priority at this time was to evacuate Vietnamese who are classified as Political Refugees, “not Montagnards”, and he emphasized to the Montagnard leaders that the South Vietnam government would only defend Saigon.
It was reported that US Embassy staff or officials sold the seats on the rescue helicopters to rich Vietnamese for gold. The Montagnard leaders who were unable to escape were imprisoned, tortured or executed. On April 30, 1975 the Vietnam War ended, and it marked the beginning of the worst period of history ever experienced by the Montagnard people.