August 18, 2007 By The Co Van
Montagnards fleeing repression from the Central Highlands in Vietnam to Cambodia have come to fear a man named Eldon that works for the UNHCR in Phnom Penh. They don’t trust him and for good reason. They consider him their enemy and the guy who works for the communists in Vietnam.
Just last week, for the first time, the United Nations High Commissioner on refugees in Cambodia has finally admitted that a Montagnard named Y-Phuoc Buon Krong may have been tortured in Vietnam. Here’s the kicker why the Montagnards can never catch a break in their human rights struggle in Vietnam. The UNHCR says that they can’t talk about his torture for confidentially purposes.
I know about this type of deceit from first hand experience. I passed through Phnom Penh in late 2005 and met Eldon Hagar, UNHCR field rep, and toured the Montagnard refugee camp. On every issue, Hagar parroted the communist party line of the politburo in Vietnam, suspecting me to believe that besides the fabulous salary that a UN worker makes, only a person ingratiating himself to the totalitarian system in Vietnam must also be a true believer.
The Montagnards I met in the camp told me that they were afraid to talk to Eldon, because when they did, he reported what they said to the communist authorities. Then their families suffered reprisals.
Hagar first stunned me with this silly explanation. “Vietnam is no longer a communist country. It’s an authoritarian one,” he said. That should be startling news to the Politburo and the Vietnamese Communist Party that is the real power behind the Socialist Republic of Vietnam today. Perhaps Hagar doesn’t know about the police state control in the Provinces and Districts of Vietnam and the People’s Party that governs at every level with an iron first.
I informed Hagar that I had just come from Vietnam where I had finally located an old former South Vietnamese soldier friend of mine after 35 years. He was afraid for me to visit him in his village because the police would come after I left and cause problems for him. Hagar barely listened to me. Shrugging his shoulders he said that the same kind of thing happens in America. That’s strange talk for an American employed by the UNHCR.
Hagar lectured me on what he considered the real problem in Vietnam in regard to the Montagnards. “The Dega Christianity (tinh lanh) practiced by the Montagnards isn’t a religion at all. It’s a political movement led by Kok Ksor of the Montagnard Foundation in America to take back the Central Highlands. It has nothing to do with religion. The Montagnards have been manipulated by outside sources.”
Eldon. You’re parroting the communist party line in Vietnam. That’s the kind of stuff one reads in their newspapers controlled by the Communist Party. It’s hogwash.
But it is a fact that that Vietnamese Communist Party has confiscated huge tracts of the Montagnard homeland for their own personal use. Thousands of party members were transferred south after the war to take over the rich homeland and exploit the vast natural wealth there.
Ever the apologist, Hagar has a simple excuse for that. “Not only did they take the Montagnard land, they took all the peasant’s land in Vietnam and dispersed it as they saw fit.”
My conversation with Hagar becomes more bizarre, regarding human rights abuses.
Says Hagar, “I’ve been to Vietnam several times now to investigate the alleged human rights abuses that the Montagnards claim happen to them. There’s nothing to it. “
At the time, Hagar had only been in Cambodia for 6 months and had been the recipient of several carefully guided tours in Vietnam with an official escort. No one gets into the Central Highlands without an official communist party minder.
“We now have an employee on our UNHCR staff that investigates the reported human rights abuses. He is a Vietnamese based in Hanoi,” Hagar proudly boasts.
“Do you really believe that the communist party power apparatus would allow a Vietnamese to conduct an independent investigation? “ I asked.
Hagar’s next statement epitomizes the sell out of the Montagnards by the UNHCR when he answered,” Yes, by all means. Why wouldn’t we trust his reports? He wouldn’t jeopardize his job with us to report falsely. And if there were really any human rights abuses, don’t you think the American CIA would know about them? Don’t you think they have spies in the Central Highlands?”
The UNHCR rep in Hanoi is Vu Anh Son. Following a field trip to the Central Highlands in Oct 5-6 of 05, he came back with a glowing report. He stated that 8 of the 13 returned Montagnards are leading good lives with high stable incomes. Each of the target families earns up to hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong a year (equal to approximately 6000 dollars)
For UNHCR to accept such a report is ludicrous and just plain dumb on their part to make it public. The $6000 a year is 30 times what a peasant in Vietnam can make in a year. Some of the best factory jobs around Saigon pay 100 dollars a month. The proselytizing department in Hanoi that directs the UNHCR rep behind the scenes needs to learn how to write more credible propaganda reports.
No one with an ounce of sense about the situation on the ground in Vietnam would believe such nonsense. It’s written for those living in the extended age of childhood, or could the UNHCR and Hagar be that na´ve? Do they know how stupid they look by parroting such nonsense?
After spending several hours with Hagar, it’s plain to see why none of the human rights organizations in Phnom Penh have any respect for UNHCR. They have compromised themselves by trying to appease the tyrants who are committing what many human rights organization say is genocide against the Montagnards in Vietnam.
In July of 05, one hundred Montagnards under the care of the UNHCR were forced back to Vietnam. The guards employed night sticks and electric batons on the Montagnards who sat on the ground and refused to get on the buses to transport them back to Vietnam. Eighteen NGO’s in Phnom Penh signed a letter of protest to the Cambodian government over the abuse. I even talked to a human rights worker who witnessed the event.
View also this interview-
you can listen to a Montagnard refugee who escaped to the US testify how he witnessed “Eldon” authorize the forced return and brutal beatings of these 100 Montagnard men, woman and children.
But Hagar offers another alibi. “Their source of information is a Human Rights Watch representative here in Phnom Penh. Human Rights Watch is not a credible source of truth here.”
HAGAR and the UNHCR are quite willing to accept anything the police state of Vietnam tells them, and to deny the legitimate humans rights abuses that the Montagnards have suffered for 32 years since the end of the Vietnam War.
Montagnards today are still fleeing Vietnam into the two eastern Provinces of Cambodia where they are hunted down for bounties and sold back to the Vietnamese Police authorities. The UNHCR’s response to this was to move their refugee camp from the Vietnamese/Cambodia border back to Phnom Penh, a distance of 200 kilometers-an impossible distance for a fleeing Montagnard to reach safety.
Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a long-time prisoner in the Communist Gulag, would have this to say to Hagar about the UNHCR’s unchallenged acceptance of what the police state system feeds them from Hanoi. “During my time in the camps, I had got to know the enemies of the human race quite well. They respect the big fist and nothing else. The harder you slug them, the safer you will be.”
Unlike Solzhenitsyn, it seems that Eldon Hagar and the UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh have become appeasers and a doormat to the “enemies of the human race.”
“Now, you will have to decide who is telling the truth here in Phnom Penh,” said Hagar as I left.
“The NGO community has their own agenda, but we at UNHCR don’t have one. We’re here to help the Montagnards.”
That parting line could not have been scripted better by beloved Big Brother in Hanoi, Vu Anh Son, who is also there to help the Montagnards.
The Co Van
Southeast Asian Traveler and Vietnam Veteran
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