Archive for May 9th, 2011

May 9, 2011

Vietnam Tries to Portray Cult Gathering as Christian

Military forcibly disbands amassed Hmong attracted to messianic sect

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By Compass Direct News

May 9, 2011

HANOI, Vietnam – The government tried to portray several thousand Hmong followers of a sub-Christian messianic cult as orthodox Christians while the military forcibly disbanded their gathering Thursday and Friday.

The cult members recruited from orthodox Christian groups – vulnerable to false teaching in a country where Christians cannot print their own Bibles and are subject to other restrictions – had gathered for religious reasons in Muong Nhe district, Dien Bien Province, but it turned into a confrontation before local defense forces disbanded them, bolstered by Vietnam People’s Army reinforcements hastily dropped in by helicopters.

Sources in Muong Nhe told Compass that several thousand Hmong who had initially gathered to wait for the ushering in of a new Hmong kingdom had been sent or taken back to their home areas, but that some 3,000 remained. A source said that about 50 Hmong followers, including the purported “messiah” and another top leader, fled into the forest but were captured by the military. The two leaders were said to have been severely beaten by the military.

One Compass source said that no one had been killed in the military action, contrary to one published report.

Some missionaries who work with the large, two-decades-old Hmong Christian movement, said to number more than 350,000, have reported aggressive cult activity since March. Severe restrictions on religious freedom in the Northwest Mountainous region where most of the Hmong live have made it difficult to train church leaders and provide adequate biblical teaching for these recent followers of Christ. As a result, church leaders said, lack of foundational biblical knowledge clearly makes them gullible to false teaching.

In the last 15 years, some 42,000 Hmong Christians have migrated from the northwest provinces to Vietnam’s Central Highlands, in major part to escape religious repression.

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Earlier in the year the worldwide Norman Camping cult, which is predicting a May 21 end of the world, began recruiting among Hmong Christians. They used material translated into the Hmong language and began to draw some followers, sources said. A short time later there appeared another in a succession of purported Hmong “messiahs.” According to Hmong mythology predating the arrival of Christianity, a Hmong messiah will appear and establish a pan-Hmong kingdom. Several such messiahs have been said to have appeared in the past.

The latest purported Hmong messiah is a 25-year-old man named Zhong Ka Chang, now renamed Tu Jeng Cheng, meaning “the important one.” He was born in Muong Tong commune of Muong Nhe district in northwestern Dien Bien Province, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) northwest of Dien Bien city. There his followers came to him from throughout the country, and he reportedly has performed miracles that enhanced his reputation.

Contradictions between the cults notwithstanding, the poorly educated villagers who follow them appear to have conflated the two into one, being especially attracted to the idea of a Hmong kingdom, sources said.

At least one of the church organizations with which the Hmong are affiliated appears to have been aware of the situation early. In March, when the Vietnam Good News Mission church heard of the Camping end-of-the-word cult, it published a 14-page booklet in Hmong and Vietnamese carefully refuting the false teaching, church leaders said. But many other Hmong Christians did not have access to it.

Officials of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North, with which most Hmong Protestant Christians are affiliated, were denied permission to visit the area of the gathering in Muong Nhe district at mid-week, church leaders said. Government authorities told them it was not a religious matter, they said.

The thousands converging on Muong Nhe from various parts of the country – estimates range from 5,000 to 11,000 – greatly concerned Vietnamese authorities. Though they have eased the heavy persecution of Hmong Christians of earlier years, Vietnamese authorities retain suspicion of what they consider a “foreign” religion, sources said. This concern is greatly heightened whenever there is any suggestion of political independence, as in the case of a Hmong kingdom led by a “messiah.”

Vietnamese authorities moved quickly on two fronts. An official Vietnamese government Web site began a vicious disinformation campaign against the “Vang Chu religion.” Vang Chu religion means “The Religion of the Lord of Heaven” and is what Hmong Protestants call themselves. The posting, apparently the first in a series, accused Hmong Protestants of involvement in smuggling, drug abuse, drug running, destruction of forests, stealing of land, illegal migration and threatening national security.

It also tied the Vang Chu faith directly to the recently-deceased Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, who led CIA-supported Hmong forces in Laos against communists during the Vietnam War era and supported a resistance for years thereafter. The government Web site article displays a photo of a White Hmong Bible (one of two dialects into which the Hmong Bible is translated) and a Christian songbook, as if they were subversive documents. The article confuses Christian radio broadcasts of the Far East Broadcasting Co. with Radio Free Asia broadcasts. It also contains several completely and intentionally confused Christian doctrines and pejoratively mocks Hmong peasants for not being able to answer questions on what they believe.

The disinformation posting concludes by saying the Vang Chu religion is a perversion of Protestantism and is being exploited “by enemy forces” to subvert the communist revolution. Rather, church leaders said, it is the cults that are a perversion of Protestant Christianity. The messianic cult in Hmong is called “Sau Vang.”

Secondly, Vietnamese authorities moved against the cult followers with overwhelming military force. Military helicopters flew in crack Vietnam People’s Army troops on Thursday to reinforce many border patrol forces and police already there.

A 17-minute Vietnamese-language interview by a Vietnamese BCC reporter with Muong Nhe district chief Giang A Dinh on Wednesday reflected how the government wished to portray the gathering. An angry Giang told the interviewer the Hmong had taken several officials hostage. Friday a higher provincial official denied the hostage taking and otherwise tried to minimize the situation, saying it was under control.

Sources in the affected area told Compass on Wednesday that the cult leaders had set up a tent as a “courthouse” venue to negotiate for land with authorities. The same sources said the army and other forces moved decisively the next day and Friday to send and transport the assembled Hmong back to their homes. By the end of Friday, Compass sources said, only 3,000 remained.

This figure agrees with what government officials have told news agencies, but a Compass source added that group of 50 cult followers, including the purported messiah and another top leader, fled into the forest. They were captured, and the two leaders were said to have been badly beaten by their captors.

A Vietnam expert said government information, foreign press agency reports, and an unnamed diplomat quoted in an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report on events in Muong Nhe district contain information that wrongly impugns the entire large Hmong Christian movement.

The Muong Nhe district event was best understood, the expert said, as a gathering of an aberrant cult followed by as few as 2 percent of Christian Hmong. Moreover, he said, the cult’s appearance was made more likely by the fact that many Hmong Christians still are denied teaching in basic beliefs because of serious religious liberty restrictions.

For example, the Hmong are still denied a legally-printed Bible. Only about 20 percent of Hmong pastors are legally allowed to study theology. Christian leaders working with Hmong did their best to counteract the cult, sources said, but the government also hampered these efforts.

The volatile mix of religion and politics, especially the messianic quest for a separate Hmong kingdom, proved a flash point for Vietnam’s authorities.

“This event regrettably shows that the Vietnamese government’s first and natural reaction is still to find reasons to impugn the whole Christian movement instead of trying understand crucial nuances,” the expert said. “Fortunately, the military response seems to have been measured.”

Releases by The Associated Press, BBC and AFP on this incident too quickly likened it to ethnic minority demonstrations for religious freedom and land rights in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in 2001 and 2004, the expert said. The underlying motivations for this Hmong gathering were entirely different – waiting for a Hmong kingdom to be ushered in – even though both resulted in a perceived demand for land and independence.

An AFP report Thursday quotes a foreign diplomat as saying of Vietnam that, “Some Hmong have previously called for a Hmong Christian State.” Hmong church sources said this was false and supported the government position.

May 9, 2011

Vietnam security forces break up Hmong (known as Montagnards) gathering

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Published May 09, 2011

| Associated Press

HANOI, Vietnam –  Thousands of ethnic Hmong have returned to their homes after Vietnamese security forces broke up more than a week of religious activities near the northwestern border with Laos, a church official said Monday.

Nguyen Huu Mac, head of the northern Evangelical Church of Vietnam, said he has been in regular contact with church members who were involved in the gathering in Muong Nhe district of Dien Bien province starting April 30. Little information about the incident has been released by the Communist government, and foreign media and diplomats have not been granted access to the area.

Provincial officials have said the Hmong gathered after a rumor spread that a supernatural force would arrive and take them to a promised land where they would find health, happiness and wealth. They accused overseas groups of using the incident to influence some Hmong to call for an independent state.

Mac said church members reported that up to 5,000 Hmong rode horses and motorbikes to the district town and camped out to await for God, expected to take them to the promised land on May 21. He said that while some participants attend his congregation in Hanoi, this was a separate millenarian movement with beliefs not connected to his church.

Mac said the church members reported that military helicopters arrived to disperse the crowd, with some security forces in uniform and others in plain clothes. He said he had received no reports of injuries or arrests related to the dispersal. He said buses were called to transport the remaining Hmong home on Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy said Monday it was aware of reports alleging a clash had occurred between security forces and Hmong followers and urged restraint while trying to verify whether any casualties occurred.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called for a full investigation and for foreign journalists and diplomats to be given access to the area.

The state-run Vietnam News said Monday at least one child had died from illness and several other followers had become sick after being exposed to bad weather during the gathering.

There is a long history of mistrust between the government and many ethnic hilltribe groups, collectively known as Montagnards. Many anti-communist hilltribe fighters were allied with the United States during the Vietnam War, and many Hmong refugees resettled there after the war.

May 9, 2011

Vietnam an emerging study of contrasts: Vietnamese security forces quashed a rare protest of hundreds of ethnic Hmong Christians in a remote mountain area

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gamvietnam.JPGMay 9, 2011

Vietnam (MNN) ― Vietnamese security forces quashed a rare protest of hundreds of ethnic Hmong Christians in a remote mountain area calling for more religious freedom and land reforms.

The protest broke out several days ago near the border with China and Laos. By May 5, the uprising had been controlled, but 28 died in that clash and scores more are still missing.

By some accounts, the Hmong Christian community is seen as an American or imperialist “import” into the country and a threat to the Communist rule.

However, Jonathan Shibley with Global Advance says it’s an amazing time for Vietnam, both from the spiritual perspective and an economic perspective. “It’ll be an interesting time because there’s a dynamic tension as Vietnam, as a whole, wants to continue to grow economically and do business with the West and other nations. There’ll be continued political pressure for human rights, for religious freedom.”

Vietnam’s fast economic growth is attracting the attention of other countries interested in opening marketplace relationships. According to some economic reports, they have a potential to grow up to around 70% of the size of the United Kingdom’s economy by 2050. “It’s really a nation that seems to be on the rise, yet it still a very complicated situation from a human rights/religious freedom standpoint.”

It’s a study in contrasts and one in which the Gospel is thriving. The church in Vietnam is growing and becoming stronger. Christians now make up almost 10 percent of the population. But scrutiny can make outreach difficult. Marketplace Missions brings the two worlds together. Shibley just held the business conference in Vietnam because “you need to engage with people that are in the marketplace. I know others that are even engaging with government to help them solve problems and try to create solutions for some of the things that are happening.”

Their teams taught biblically-sound business principles during the conference, where they were “able to connect with some wonderful First Generation believers that are vibrant in their faith, that are making a difference in the marketplace,” says Shibley.

“Yet, at the same time,” he continues, “I’ve met with many of the house church leaders throughout the country and have heard their frustrations. They still feel like they have a lack of freedom,” a frustrating situation to be in since the Bamboo Curtain seems to be swinging open. For example, Shibley shares, “I had the privilege of sharing with the group just a very simple message of the good news of the Gospel, and I watched people respond with fervency, with joy, and with excitement to receive this Jesus.”

As a result of attending a marketplace leadership conference, national business leaders will be better equipped to understand their role in the marketplace from a Kingdom-perspective, do business with integrity and character, and better understand both spiritual and technical aspects of doing business.

Shibley says, “Our prayer is that over time, on all fronts, believers will be recognized by those in authority that they add value to society and culture, and they’re not the enemy but they’re actually the solution.”

Pray that the Lord will protect these believers and give them the strength they need to stay faithful and remain effective witnesses for Christ. There’s more here.


May 9, 2011

Vietnam hails Laos for suspending Xayaburi dam

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Last updated: 5/8/2011 12:30

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L) meets with Lao Prime Minister Thoongsing Thammavong on May 7 on the sidelines of the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia (Photo: Vietnamese Government website)

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Saturday praised the Lao government for its decision to suspend the Xayaburi Dam project on the Mekong River.

During his meeting with Lao PM Thoongsing Thammavong on the sidelines of the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Dung said the decision to halt the project reflected the cooperation and deep consideration that Laos has given to Vietnam’s proposal.

Vietnam wants to work with Laos and other Mekong countries, including the two upstream countries China and Myanmar, in using the river in a sustainable manner that serves the interest of each nation and the whole region, Dung said.

At the meeting, the two leaders also reviewed the success of the 33rd session of the Vietnam-Laos Joint Government Committee in April, agreeing to further boost bilateral relations.

During another meeting with Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, also on Saturday, both sides promised to promote cooperation, especially in business, trade and investment. They also discussed the management and sustainable use of Mekong River resources.

ASEAN summit

Senior officials of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are attending a leadership summit in Jakarta during the weekend. Indonesia chairs the regional bloc this year.

In his welcome speech at the summit on Saturday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the region is now facing complex food and energy issues.

“The world population is expected to grow fast from seven billion and will reach nine billion by 2045. Nations on this earth will face a competitive situation for the scarce resources of daily needs,” the president said in a statement published on the ASEAN website.

“History shows that the rise of food and energy prices usually cause and has always caused an increase in the number of people living in poverty,” he said.

“We cannot face these challenges merely at the national level, but (must) instead produce solutions that are more comprehensive, and cooperation that is more intense amongst countries in the Southeast Asian region,” he said.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: Thanh Nien, VNA

May 9, 2011

Laos defends road to dam

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Monday, 09 May 2011 15:02
Mary Kozlovski
The Laos government has defended the construction of roads near the site of a proposed US$3.8 billion hydropower dam on the lower Mekong, despite a delay in the regional decision-making process regarding the controversial project.Viraphonh Viravong, director general of the department of electricity at Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines, told the Bangkok Post yesterday that road construction around the proposed 1,260MW Xayaburi dam site in northern Laos had been requested by Xayaburi and Luang Prabang provincial authorities.

The newspaper reported last month that infrastructure work had begun, publishing photographs of trucks and diggers with the logo of CH Karnchang Public Company Limited, the Thai company heading the project.

‘’This is a fairly common practice for developments in Laos since the early completion of access roads helps to reduce the mobilisation time and reduce the overall construction [time] of the project,’’ Viraphonh Viravong told the newspaper via email, adding that there was a risk the project would not proceed.

Viraphonh Viravong is head of the Laos delegation to the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body created to manage the Mekong River.

At a special Joint Committee Meeting of the MRC on April 19, government representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam deferred a decision on whether consultation on the proposed dam should end to ministerial level because “they could not come to a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project”, according to an MRC statement.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said yesterday that Laos should respect the MRC agreement.

“Lao PDR should not go ahead with construction [of the dam] because the issue is still under discussion,” he said.

He added that the MRC Secretariat had sent a letter to the Laos National Mekong Committee on April 29 seeking clarification about the reported construction, but had not yet received a response.

Environmental groups and NGOs have criticised the project, arguing that the dam would have a devastating impact on the environment and the livelihood of communities in the Lower Mekong.

Pianporn Deetes, Mekong campaigner for conservation organisation International Rivers, said yesterday that the MRC had been undermined by the construction.

“This project is on a trans-boundary river that is shared by many other countries so any construction work involving the dam would already mean that Laos ignores the issues raised by their neighbours,” she said. “There are many other ways available to produce electricity for Laos … without destroying the Mekong River.”

A statement issued on Friday by Save the Mekong coalition called on ASEAN leaders to investigate the Xayaburi dam, also requesting that the Laos government halt construction at the proposed site and the Thai government abandon plans to purchase the dam’s electricity.

Ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to determine whether to end discussion on the proposed dam through the MRC later this year.

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