Montagnards End 20 Year War With Hanoi
O'WEI, Mondolkiri Province-A rag-tag army of lightly armed but highly respected tribal
guerrillas ended their long hit-and-run war against the Vietnamese government Oct.
10 in a remote forest clearing in eastern Cambodia.
The tough Montagnard fighters of FULRO-the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed
Races-and their families, 398 people in all, were shuttled out of their idyllic but
harsh sanctuary in Mondolkiri province.
They are now in Phnom Penh under heavy U.N. security and are being processed by U.S.
officials for resettlement in the west.
U.S. officials in Cambodia say that a flurry of high-level behind the scenes political
maneuvering in recent weeks has bypassed normal refugee channels and the entire group
is almost guaranteed to be resettled in the United States-most likely in North Carolina.
One American diplomat in Phnom Penh said that the U.S. government had been ''cutting
corners left and right to expedite their going to the U.S. It is almost unheard of.''
He said that the streamlined processing of the refugees was motivated by a "moral
responsibility'' that the U.S. had to the fighters.
Their forgotten war began in 1964 and picked up steam when they were armed and trained
by the United States to fight the Vietnamese communists.
FULRO leaders say that the Americans fell back on a promise to give them continued
covert support after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. The betrayal was just one of many
over the last several decades.
Once promised an autonomous state in the central highlands of Vietnam by the French
colonial powers, the Montagnards-at one point 10,000 fighters strong-fought alongside
various regimes who promised to help them achieve their goal of self rule.
Abandoned or betrayed by all, the Montagnards carried on their struggle without foreign
assistance after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, suffering heavy losses in the
Before boarding six massive M1-26 helicopters, the last 15 armed guerrillas of a
force of about 250 ceremonially handed over their aged but immaculately-maintained
weapons to Uruguayan soldiers of Cambodia's U.N. peacekeeping force.
Col. Leonel Milone of Uruguay said the guerrillas had brought in 194 weapons and
2,567 rounds of ammunition. The army's largest weapon-the M-79 grenade launcher-had
one remaining round of ammunition.
Colonel Y Peng Ayun, the leader of FULRO, then handed their flag to Milone and renounced
the struggle against Hanoi.
''We are very sad about leaving here,'' Ayun told the Post. ''We do not want to go
to a free nation, but we have no choice now. It is my responsibility to help my people
who have suffered terribly under the Vietnamese communists. We will become refugees
now, but we will never give up our struggle to liberate our Montagnard nation from
the Vietnamese communists. We will come back when we can get assistance from the
free countries because it is our duty''
After meeting three weeks ago with a Montagnard leader from the United States that
they had lost touch with, the group agreed to surrender their arms to the United
Nations and leave the jungles of Cambodia for refuge in the West.
"This is the end of this chapter of the struggle,'" said Pierre K'Briuh,
who came to Cambodia in late September after learning from the Post that his compatriots
had been located in remote Khmer Rouge-controlled forests.
He said that Vietnam's Montagnard leadership, some of whom escaped to live in the
west, had lost all contact with the FULRO combatants since 1980.
FULRO posed a fresh problem for UNTAC after the devout Christian Montagnards emerged
from the jungle in June to introduce themselves to French troops at a U.N. cantonment
site near the Vietnamese border.
The group, at war with Hanoi, was also under threat from Phnom Penh, which captured
five FULRO soldiers and turned them over to Vietnam, where they are in prison. FULRO
made a written request for U.N. protection, later seeking refugee status and resettlement
in the United States or France.
While Uruguayan UNTAC soldiers based in the area have been given high marks for the
extra effort and humanitarian concern they put into working with the Montagnards,
the U.N. bureaucracies in Phnom Penh have come under fire for their slow response
to the fighters' request for help.
For nearly three months, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials ignored
the pleas from FULRO and UNTAC soldiers based in the area, only dispatching their
officials to meet with the guerrillas after the group received widespread publicity
UNHCR has since issued an order forbidding all media access to the FULRO combatants,
and warning FULRO leaders that talking to the press could result in the group being
forcibly repatriated to Vietnam, where they would face certain prison.
The fighters and their families left behind four villages of wooden and bamboo huts,
along with simple open-air Catholic and Evangelical churches.
In the final days before their evacuation, Budar Su Khong, 52, an Evangelical preacher,
read sermons in the forest honoring the jungle and reading biblical passages of the
Israelites' exodus to the promised land.
Y Bhong Rcam, 47, spoke over a jungle campfire the night before UNTAC was to arrive
and they were to abandon their base.
''I have been in the jungle more than 20 years already," he said. "It has
been very hard duty, and many of us have died, so it is very sad to go to America.
I can only worry about my country now-how can I save my people."
The U.N. blue berets paid high tribute to the spirit, hospitality, dedication and
military skills of the guerrillas.
The men, who went out on patrol every day, relied on "a cross between American
special forces tactics and their own bush savvy," said Australian signalman