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- Before the Vietnam War, the population of the Central Highlands, estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million, was almost exclusively Montagnard. Today, the population is approximately 4 million, of whom about 1 million are Montagnard.
- The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French. The Montagnards, who are made up of different tribes, customs, and languages, typically refer to themselves by their tribal names such as Jarai, Koho, Manong, and Rhade.
- As the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands, the Montagnards are completely different in their culture and language from the mainstream Vietnamese.
Conflict and Crisis History
In the mid-1950’s, the once isolated Montagnards began experiencing more contact with outsiders after the Vietnamese government launched efforts to gain better control of the Central Highlands. The Montagnards have a long history of tensions with the mainstream Vietnamese. There have been conflicts between the two groups over many issues, including land ownership, language and cultural preservation, access to education and resources, and political representation.
During the Vietnam War, the Central Highlands emerged as a strategically important area (largely due to the Ho Chi Minh Trail). The U.S. military developed base camps in the area and recruited the Montagnards, who fought alongside American soldiers and became a major part of the U.S. military effort in the Highlands. Montagnard bravery and loyalty earned them the respect and friendship of the U.S. military forces as well as sympathy for the Montagnard for independence.
Thousands of Montagnards fled to Cambodia after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army, fearing that the government would launch reprisals against them because they had aided the U.S. army. In addition, the Vietnamese government has steadily displaced thousands of villagers from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, to use the fertile land for coffee plantations.
- Over 380,000 refugees from the Central Highlands have been resettled in the United States since 2000.
- The Montagnard people are being increasingly marginalized, being deprived of their basic human rights. As well as physical abuse, they are constantly persecuted, restricted in their religious practices and also face their land being taken from them.