Thursday, 19 May 2011

Vietnam: Hmong history of unrest

The Hmong constitute Vietnam's largest ethnic group, with almost 1 million members throughout the country: predominantly in the northern highlands along the border with Laos and China, but also with large popula¬tions in the central highlands. Large popula¬tions of Hmong can also be found in southern China (3 million), Laos (450,000), Thailand (150,000), and as far as Myanmar.

The Hmong have various lineages and clans and were named the Montagnards, or 'mountain people,' by the French. They have a history of revolt, including against the French in the 1920s.

During the war between the United States and Vietnam, the Hmong in the central highlands and also in Laos worked closely with the Americans against the communists. As a result of this alliance, after the war the Hmong were initially mistrusted and heavily controlled. Numbers fled to camps in Thailand and more than 250,000 now live in America.

They also fought against Laotian forces throughout the 1980s and '90s and were forced to flee to Thai refugee camps. The last Hmong refugee camp was closed in Thailand in 2010 and remaining refugees either relocated to the United States or Australia or were forcibly returned to Laos.

Despite this history the Hmong in Vietnam have been gradually absorbed into Vietnamese society, though there was sporadic unrest in Dien Bien Phu province in 1999 and also in the central highlands in 2001 and 2004.

It seems that the timing of the most recent revolt was not an accident, coming a few days before Dien Bien Phu province was to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the defeat of French forces there in 1954. Celebrations were kept to a minimum as a result.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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