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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Minorities fleeing Vietnam to Cambodia
Rural people in Vietnam
The protests were some of the biggest in years
United Nations officials have confirmed that more members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam have fled to Cambodia to seek refugee.

Speaking to the BBC, officials from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, refused to confirm reports that more than 100 hilltribe people were now under their protection.

Cambodian officials have said about 100 refugees have asked Cambodian villages in Pech Chrada for permission to settle.

Ethnic minority member in Vietnam
Ethnic minorities make up 15% of the population
This is the second group of ethnic refugees from Vietnam's Central Highlands, which was the scene of huge protests - the biggest for years - in February.

The protests were fuelled by anger over repression of fringe Protestant churches as well as the government turning ancestral forests into the country's largest coffee-growing region.

Vietnamese authorities have cracked down on the region since, sending in military and police reinforcements to the region and warning that "troublemakers" will be prosecuted.

Earlier this week, it announced plans to boost minority language broadcasting to the highlands, in a move to intensify propaganda to the region.

US-Vietnam tensions

Last month the United States granted asylum to 24 Vietnamese who had crossed into Cambodia.

The issue has raised tension between the two countries, with Vietnam asking for the return of all those who cross the border illegally.

Commuters under a sign extolling the virtues of industry and modernisation
A decree has warned against complaints against the state
Vietnam has also blamed a US-based minority exile group, the Montagnard Foundation, of inciting anger in the region, through using the Protestant religion.

Human rights groups have criticised Vietnam for religious repression, citing the crackdown on Protestant "house churches". There are reports that some house churches were torn down by authorities.

The US has a powerful human rights lobby, and many ethnic Montagnards fought alongside US forces in the Vietnam War.

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See also:

18 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam 'troublemakers' face prosecution
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Norwegian MP held in Vietnam
29 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnamese army woos hilltribes
28 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fury at Vietnam church destruction
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam warns US not to interfere
07 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic unrest in Vietnam's highlands
17 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Religion blamed for Vietnam unrest
16 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam: A new Asian Tiger?
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