May 6 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam said it is looking into unconfirmed reports of deaths following protests by ethnic minority Hmong people in a remote mountain area near the Laos border.
Vietnamese soldiers clashed with thousands of protesters calling for greater autonomy and religious freedom, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday, citing an unidentified military official. Twenty-eight people were killed and hundreds are missing, according to Washington-based humanitarian advocacy group the Center for Public Policy Analysis.
“We urge all parties involved to avoid violence, to resolve any differences peacefully and in accordance with Vietnamese law and internationally recognized human rights standards,” the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement today. The Embassy is inquiring into “unconfirmed reports of possible deaths associated with these protests.”
The protests are the third known incident of unrest among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities in the past decade. In 2001 and 2004, Vietnamese security forces confronted Montagnards in the Central Highlands protesting religious persecution and the loss of their homelands, causing at least 1,000 to flee the country.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a “large gathering” of Hmong people took place in Dien Bien province in the country’s northwestern region after a rumor that a “supernatural force” would lead them to a “promised land.”
The crowd was incited to call for a separate territory for Hmong people, “causing disorder, insecurity and an unsafe situation,” the ministry’s statement said. Local officials have convinced many to return to their homes, it said.
“Significant numbers of Vietnam People’s Army troops from Hanoi, and security forces from Laos, have been deployed for special military operations directed against the Hmong minority people,” Philip Smith, the executive director of the U.S. advocacy group, said in a statement on its website, citing other non-governmental organizations and people inside the region where the protests were taking place.
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