Le dictionnaire



Ethnic minority groups in former French Indochina were caught in the crossfire in the war mainly between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and Franco-Vietnamese forces between 1945 and 1954.

The ethno-linguistic make-up of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam was and remains very heterogeneous. A colonial census of 1938 recorded 16.7 million ethnic Vietnamese, 2.9 million Khmer and almost 800,000 Lao. Colonial authorities also counted sizeable “minority” populations, including some 600,000 Tai and Tho, 214,000 Man and Hmong, 1 million “Moi”, including Bahnar, Sedang, Stieng, Jarai, and Rhadé located mainly in the central Vietnamese highlands.

During the Indochina conflict, the French adopted the well-known strategy of “divide and rule”. The army recruited from among the different ethnic minorities in Indochina, convinced that it could turn their supposed anti-Vietnamese animosities against the DRV in strategically important upland areas. Of particular importance were the Tai, Nung, and Hmong populations located behind DRV lines in the highlands of northwestern Vietnam as well as those located in the central highlands, what the French referred to as the Pays montagnards du sud (PMS) since 1946.

Pushed by the Americans, the French Groupement de commandos mixtes aéroportés relied heavily on upland peoples to harass the DRV in its own territory. Notable allies for the French among the ethnic minorites were Deo Van Long, president of the Tai Federation created by the French in 1948, and Chau Quang Lo, an ethnic Hmong. The French army even created distinct batallions based along these ethnic minority lines, some of which were present during the battle of Dien Bien Phu, itself located in Tai-Lao lands. French support for the creation of new ethnic minority armies, communities, and identities worked against the efforts of the DRV and the Associated State of Vietnam to incorporate them into a Vietnamese citizenship.

With the end of the war in mid-1954 and the division of Vietnam into two provisional states at the 17th parallel, the French could do little to help their partisans who now fell squarely under the national control of the DRV in the north and that of the Republic of Vietnam in the south. The French evacuated a small number of minority ethnic allies and their families to southern Vietnam and France following the Geneva Accords, while some escaped by foot to Laos. However, most remained behind and some paid with their lives for their collaboration with the French. In areas below the 17th parallel, the minority ethnic troops returned to their homes but they too soon came under the tighter national control of the Republic of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem. As for the leaders of the DRV, they countered French efforts to turn the minority groups against them in military and political ways. In exchange for their cooperation, communist authorities granted them greater degrees of autonomy. Vietnamese communists also counted among their own ranks ethnic minority leaders such as Hoang Dinh Giong of Tai origin and Chu Van Tan from the Nung. See also KHMER KROM; OVERSEAS CHINESE; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE.