The July 30 front-page article "Waging War from California: Vietnam, Cambodia Urge U.S. to Curb Exile Groups" said, "Vietnamese officials also contend that recent anti-government protests by members of the Montagnard ethnic group in the country's Central Highlands were instigated by Montagnards who live in the United States."

I just returned from Cambodia and interviewed several hundred Montagnard refugees in two U.N. camps. The causes of the protests were human rights abuses, ethnic and cultural genocide, coerced sterilization, racial discrimination, religious repression and starvation resulting from the Vietnamese government's confiscation of the Montagnard's ancestral lands.

After the communist takeover in 1975, the Vietnamese government resettled about 3 million Vietnamese from the north into the Central Highlands. The government confiscated the Montagnards' ancestral lands to create vast state-run coffee plantations financed by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The Montagnards have been relegated to parcels of land too small to grow enough food to feed their families.

As a result, Vietnam has become the world's largest exporter of Robusta coffee and has dumped the coffee on the international market, causing prices to plummet and impoverishing millions of coffee farmers in Latin America and elsewhere. This action has the potential to destroy the U.S.-funded crop-substitution program in the cocaine-growing regions of Columbia, Peru and Ecuador. The pending U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement will only exacerbate this problem.



The writer is an adviser to the Montagnard Human Rights Organization.