Authorities in Vietnam said Friday they will prosecute 84 people accused of being involved in deadly attacks on two commune offices in central Dak Lak province and ordered them held in pre-trial detention.
It isn’t clear who was behind the June 11 attacks, which left nine people dead, or what motivated them.
On Friday, the Ministry of Public Security said it had confirmed that “organizations and individuals from overseas” had been involved, without getting more specific.
“Materials and evidence collected by security forces show that the incident took place with the support and guidance of several organizations and individuals from overseas,” the ministry said. “They even sent foreign-based people to Vietnam illegally in order to stage and direct the terrorist attacks.”
On Tuesday, Major General Pham Ngoc Viet, the head of the ministry’s Homeland Security Department, said that among those arrested in Dak Lak were members of “a U.S.-based organization” who had been “tasked to enter Vietnam and stage the attacks.”
The attacks occurred in an area that is home to about 30 indigenous tribes known collectively as Montagnards, who have historically felt persecuted or oppressed. But authorities have not said those arrested were Montagnards.
RFA interviewed several overseas Montagnard organizations who denied involvement in the incident and even condemned the violent attacks.
In the days immediately following the attack, authorities had said those involved were young people who harbored delusions and extremist attitudes and had been incited and abetted by the ringleaders via the internet.
In an announcement, the Dak Lak Provincial Police’s Investigation Agency said it will try 75 of the 84 defendants on charges of “conducting terrorist acts against the People’s government.”
Seven others were charged with “failing to denounce criminals,” while an eighth was charged with “hiding criminals” and a ninth with “organizing and brokering for others to exit, enter, or stay in Vietnam illegally.”
The Dak Lak People’s Procuracy approved the decision to prosecute the 84 and ordered them remanded to the provincial prison ahead of their trial.
The announcement said that security forces investigating the attack have so far confiscated 23 guns, two grenades, 1,199 bullets, 15 detonators, 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) of explosives, a silencer, a landmine training model, and 30 knives. It said 10 flags from the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, or FULRO, were also seized.
FULRO, founded in the 1950s, was a resistance army that fought on the side of United States and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War before officially disbanding in the 1990s.
Vietnam has asserted that rights groups working on Central Highlands issues are part of an ongoing separatist movement linked to FULRO, but the groups reject the claims, saying they are working nonviolently for human rights.
Anger and frustration in the Central Highlands has built up after decades of government surveillance, land disputes and economic hardship, RFA reported earlier. In recent months, there have been a number of land revocation incidents by local authorities, police and military forces.
In the ministry’s description of what transpired, about 40 people wearing camouflage vests and equipped with knives and guns split into two groups for a dawn attack on the offices in Ea Tieu and Ea Ktur communes.
Members of the two groups also had broken into Special Forces Brigade No. 198’s barracks in Hoa Dong commune in Dak Lak province to steal weapons, but failed, the ministry told state media.
Those arrested said they sought to steal weapons so as to make news headlines, which they hoped would give them the opportunity to immigrate to other countries, according to the ministry.
In their preliminary statements, those arrested said they had been incited by others to kill police officers.
Four police officers, two commune officials and three civilians were killed.
The attackers also kidnapped three civilians, though one of them managed to escape, and the others were rescued later, the ministry said.