Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 27, 2011 - Religious persecution and human- rightsviolations continue for many in Southeast Asia, especially the ethnic Hmongminority of Vietnam and Laos, who are now suffering from egregious abuses.

After deploying the military and sealing offthe area to journalists last month, Vietnam People's Army (VPA) special forceshave pursued ethnic Hmong involved in mass protests.

Hmong demonstrators, including manyhonoring the beatification of Pope John Paul II last month in Vietnam's largestCatholic diocese, Hung Hoa, have fled a violent army crackdown that continuesin northeastern Vietnam's Dien Bien Province, along the border with Laos.

Hmong-Americans, and other Southeast Asiansin the Twin Cities, are concerned about recent developments and fear for theirfamilies overseas who are facing greater religious persecution.

Contrary to some reports, many of the Hmongnow facing persecution are Catholics, Protestants or Animist believers whogathered to appeal to Hanoi for land reform, religious freedom, human rightsand an end to illegal logging by VPA-owned companies.

One overlooked factor, however, that broughtmany of the Hmong together and helped spark the mass protests was thebeatification of the late Pope John Paul II in Rome on May 1, the day the Hmonggathered in full force in Dien Bien province.

The peaceful mass gathering involved 8,500ethnic Viet-Hmong protestors. It is the same area where French forces suffereddefeat at the hands of the Viet Minh guerrillas in May 1954, at Dien Bien Phu.

The recent Hmong protests continued fornearly a week until VPA soldiers and police were finally ordered in tocrackdown on the outpouring of religious and political dissent.

The Hmong in Vietnam and Laos have oftenresisted the Communist Party's restrictions on human rights, religious freedomand civil liberties. Pope John Paul II inspired many in Asia -- includingCatholic Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Hmong, Thais and others -- to"be not afraid" and to confront social injustice and despotism.

Most Hmong are traditional Animist believers,but significant numbers are also Protestant Christians and Catholics.

In Vietnam, Laos, and in the Diaspora, manyHmong are pleased that Pope John Paul II was beatified. Some remember hisefforts in bringing hope and freedom to the people of Eastern Europe whosuffered under authoritarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain.

As a result of the protests, there is concernthat many Hmong have been killed or wounded by VPA forces, including helicoptergun-ships. Thousands of Hmong in Dien Bien have been arrested or havedisappeared at the hands of the army.

Currently, thousands are hiding in direconditions from security forces sent by Hanoi to crush the Hmong. The VPA isdeploying commandos to track, arrest, and in some cases, summarily executeHmong who have fled into the mountain interior, or to Laos.

Across the border, the Lao People's Army(LPA), with the support of Vietnamese security forces, is also engaged inattacking Hmong fleeing the crackdown.

Human Rights Watch has called for access tothe Hmong.

The Obama administration must do more topress Vietnam and Laos to cease their religious persecution and human-rightsviolations. Vietnam and Laos should be designated by the U.S. Commission forInternational Religious Freedom as Countries of Particular Concern, and shouldbe sanctioned for their persecution of religious believers, including theHmong.

(Source: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/otherviews/124518218.html, Philip Smith is executive director of theCenter for Public Policy Analysis in Washington)