Net help for persecuted tribes of Laos and Vietnam

The Internet has become an effective tool of communication. It is through the web that the indigenous people in the forests of Laos and Vietnam are letting the world know about their persecution by their respective governments.

ALERTNET BLOGGER, Amy Hutt, who has reported on human rights issues in Southeast Asia, Australia and South America, writes about how the Hmong and the Montagnards are reaching out to the world, through technology.

Hmong, who live in the forests of Laos, claim that the government is persecuting them and treating them like enemies for their supposed relation with the rebels, who fought against the communist regime 40 years back.

A video has now surfaced on the YouTube, which shows a 10- year-old Hmong boy, whose stomach is cut open and the internal organs are exposed. He was attacked by the government forces while searching for food. He died two days after the attack, without getting any medical care.

The report also talks about a video posted by the ’Montagnard Foundation’, which shows the Montagnard people being tortured and beaten up by the Vietnamese forces. Although they have given up violence and disbanded their separatist campaign, the Montagnards are still facing serious government actions. The report estimates that 350 are in prison. The majority of the prisoners are accused of seeking asylum into the neighboring country of Cambodia or being active in the religious activities.

The Hmong
According to the data provided by the Wikipedia, China has the largest Hmong population in the world at three million. In Laos, there are 3,20,000 Hmongs and in Vietnam there are 7,90,000. It is said that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited Hmong men in Laos to fight the ’US Secret War’ in the country, in the early 1960s.

After the war ended, the Hmong were targeted by thecommunist regime and faced retaliation. Many fled to Thailand and other countries seeking refuge.

The Montagnards
According to the ’Save the Montagnard people’ website, the Montagnards are now facing political, economic as well as cultural retaliation from the Vietnamese government. Their language cannot be taught in the schools, and all the books written in their tribal languages were burnt after 1975.

Montagnard farmers are not allowed to use the public irrigation system, which affects their crop production and income level. They are also denied medical care and other facilities that other villagers receive from the government.

They are also facing religious persecution, many of their churches were forcibly closed down, and some were even vandalised. The government even arrested preachers and forced them to worship only in ’approved’ churches.

Vietnam battles cholera outbreak, over 130 infected

A woman selling vegetables at a marketHANOI (AFP) — Vietnam, battling a cholera outbreak that has infected over 130 people, this week launches a month-long public hygiene drive while cracking down on dirty food stalls and dredging sewage-choked lakes.

The epidemic of the dangerous bacterial disease — the country’s third major outbreak since October — has spread in recent weeks from its epicentre in Hanoi to southern Ho Chi Minh City and 16 provinces, officials said.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, at a weekend crisis meeting, ordered state agencies in the communist country to quickly come to grips with the epidemic, which has also seen over 1,300 people hospitalised with acute diarrhoea.

The disease, spread through unsafe food, “not only affects our people’s health but also socio-economic development, tourism and social security,” he told ministers and provincial chiefs, according to the Tuoi Tre daily.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholerae. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

Vietnam has so far reported no fatalities from the three outbreaks.

Of 1,335 acute diarrhea cases reported since early March, 136 patients — or about 10 percent — have tested positive for cholera, Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan said, according to the main government website.

The disease has thrown a spotlight on often poor hygiene conditions in Vietnam’s public spaces, including wet markets and streetside restaurants where ground-level cooking areas are often situated adjacent to toilets.

Many farmers use fresh manure to fertilise vegetables and polluted water to irrigate fields. At tens of thousands of streetside food stalls, dishes and chopsticks are commonly washed using soapy but cold water.

Public health officials say they suspect cholera has spread rapidly along Vietnam’s north-south railway line, where many train carriages have inadequate waste removal services and the toilets can be forbidding places.

“Fifteen trains a day take 3,000 passengers through 22 provinces,” Huan said according to the Thanh Nien daily. “Only 100 out of 1,000 carriages have sanitary waste collection. This is a huge threat in spreading the germ.”

In Hanoi, where at least 44 cholera cases have been reported, authorities have ordered the dredging of 31 lakes which, although picturesque, are often filled with sewage and are now seen as dangerous disease incubators.

City workers have already dumped over one tonne of chlorine into central Hanoi’s Linh Quang Lake and closed some restaurants and street stalls along its shore after six people living nearby tested positive for cholera.

Two thousand residents have been given cholera vaccines, reports said.

“It is a challenge with a sewerage system that has not kept pace as the population and urban density have increased,” said Sean Tobin, a medical epidemiologist at the World Health Organisation in Vietnam.Tobin said Vietnam was now taking the right steps to fight the outbreak, the source of which remained unclear, but added that there had been “a little bit of a fog of information” on the spread of the disease.

Vietnam’s state-controlled media — after months of focusing on the more benign sounding “acute diarrhoea” — has now started to routinely use the word “cholera,” a shift officials hope will help drive home the health threat.

In its month-long information campaign, the government will stress key public hygiene messages — such as the need to wash hands after using toilets or handling garbage and before touching food, keeping kitchens clean, cooking food well, boiling drinking water, and avoiding unsafe streetside restaurants.

Shoe factory workers strike in Vietnam

About 3,000 workers at a Taiwanese shoe factory in Vietnam are on strike, demanding higher salaries to help cope with inflation.

The office manager of the Emperor footwear company in southern Long An province, says they want a salary increase of about 10 per cent.

The strike began Friday night and is still going as negotiations continue with management.

A strike of more than 15,000 workers hit a factory that makes shoes for Nike in Long An earlier this month.

Workers also asked for a salary increase.

Vietnam’s consumer prices have risen sharply this year including the cost of essentials such as rice.