The Montagnards, the various peoples making up the hill tribes of South Vietnam, are no strangers to the ravages of war.
The Montagnards, the various peoples making up the hill tribes of South Vietnam, are no strangers to the ravages of war. They were the original occupants of the Vietnamese Lowlands before the present majority race invaded and drove them to the sanctuary of the hills.
Now that sanctuary has been overwhelmed by the present Vietnamese war and a reverse process has set in -- the tribes are being drive back to refuges in the Lowlands and in the towns.
The vicious fighting in Kontum province last summer had a brutal effect on the Montagnards. Twenty-thousand refugees were displaced in the province and many flocked into the city of Kontum. And there they remain trying to pursue the traditions of a simple, pastoral life amongst ruins of a city shattered by modern war.
Some attempts to resettle the Montagnards in this area have been made. The former United State base of Mary Lou, a dozen miles west of Kontum, has been converted to house 17,000 Montagnards.
But in an area still strongly infiltrated by the North Vietnamese, Saigon officials have been trying to persuade the Montagnards to settle in another, safer area in the Lowlands. This could be safer for the Government forces, too. The Montagnards have a reputation as formidable fighters and the South Vietnamese view the possibility of tribesmen taking up the Viet Cong cause with some alarm.
The Americans, who valued the fighting qualities of the Montagnards and developed a close association with them, have likened these displaced tribes to those of the American Indian. The question is whether the Montagnards can now readapt to the Lowland life they left so many centuries ago.
SYNOPSIS: The devastated South Vietnamese countryside round Kontum still bears the stamp of some of the bitterest fighting of 1972. The nearby city of Kontum was under prolonged siege and ninety per cent of the province was a free fire zone -- a wasteland where any sign of human activity was considered Communist and punished by instant artillery fire or air strikes.
Refugees created by this situation are among the most pitiable in the whole of this tragic war. They're the Montagnards, the many hill tribes who traditionally pursued a simple, pastoral life. Now many of them are reduced to the barest shelter as they try to pick up the pieces of a shattered existence. They're some of the estimated twenty-thousand Montagnards in this province who were displaced by last summer's fighting.
Across the river -- a North Vietnamese outpost and a Viet Cong flag. Because of the continued infiltration. Saigon officials have been trying to persuade the Montagnards to settle in safer Lowland areas.
This first step on the road to resettlement is the former United States base of Mary Lou, a dozen miles west of Kontum. Seventeen-thousand Montagnards live here - and are harangued by government officials on the virtues of moving down to the Lowlands. There the tribes, traditionally fierce fighters, would be safe from Viet Cong propaganda and recruitment. But can they readapt to a new way of life? ironically, they already have, centuries ago. These tribes originally occupied the Vietnamese Lowland, until the present majority race invaded and drove them to sanctuary in the hills. Will their children be able to carve cut a new life and culture in a d???f ???.
In the city of Kontum itself the signs are not hopeful. Here the most pathetic of the Montagnards, the people from the hills, live an often squalid life in the urban wasteland of twentieth-century war.