Vietnam 'seals ethnic Hmong protest site'

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Vietnam has sealed off the scene of a rare protest by thousands of ethnic minority Hmong in a remote north-eastern mountainous area, reports say.

It comes after army units were sent in to quash the demonstration for greater autonomy, which started on 30 April.

Soldiers are stopping people leaving or entering the Dien Bien region, and electricity and telecommunications have reportedly been cut.

It is the most serious ethnic unrest in Vietnam for seven years, analysts say.

Vietnam's communist rulers keep a tight control on dissent and protests of any kind are extremely rare.

'Minor clashes'

Some 5,000-7,000 people have been involved in the unrest, according to a diplomatic source cited by the Reuters news agency.

The demands of the protesting Hmong - who are mostly Christians - include more religious freedom, better land rights and more autonomy.

The Dien Bien region, which borders Laos, is one of Vietnam's most remote, making it difficult to verify reports.

A local official told the BBC's Vietnamese service on Wednesday that the authorities had tried to negotiate with the demonstrators.

But several officials had been taken hostage by the protesters, he said. It is unclear whether they have been released.

A military source quoted by the AFP news agency said the army had sent reinforcements and "had to disperse the crowd by force".

He said there had been "minor clashes", but did not say whether there had been any casualties.

"The situation is still being resolved by all levels of party and government so that the lives of the compatriots there can return to stability at an early time," foreign affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told Reuters.

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