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Cablegate: Vietnamese Monks Protest Situation in Southern

VZCZCXRO3073
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0342/01 0611020
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 021020Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8096
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2263
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1578

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000342

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KDEM PREL CB VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAMESE MONKS PROTEST SITUATION IN SOUTHERN
VIETNAM

1. (SBU) Summary. On February 27, approximately 40
Buddhist monks -- mostly from southern Vietnam -- staged a
four-hour protest demonstration near the Vietnamese Embassy
to protest conditions affecting the ethnic Khmer in Vietnam;
in particular, the defrocking of monks. The unapproved but
peaceful demonstration took place in conjunction with the
two-day visit of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet to
Cambodia. The UN Human Rights Office and LICADHO officials
mediated between police and protesting monks, and were
permitted to escort the monks back to their respective
pagodas to avoid any arrests of the participants. The
following day, one Khmer Krom monk was reported to have
committed suicide; NGOs are investigating the death. On
March 1, the MOI notified Khmer Krom organizations that they
could hold a protest at a local pagoda, but authorities and
pro-CPP monks have reportedly limited participation. End
Summary.

Vietnamese Monks Stage Protest
------------------------------

2. (U) On the morning of February 27, approximately 40
Buddhist monks participated in a peaceful protest near the
Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh regarding the defrocking of
13 Vietnamese monks who allegedly participated in
demonstrations by ethnic Khmer in southern Vietnam over human
rights issues. The protest took place during the two-day
visit of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet. The
four-hour protest by the Buddhist monks (who have rarely
participated in peaceful demonstrations in recent years in
Cambodia) was eventually dispersed by local police joined by
members of the armed riot police unit. Although the police
initially showed unusual tolerance in allowing the protesters
to group near the Vietnamese Embassy, the security forces'
patience began to wear thin by mid-morning, with the police
threatening to arrest or detain any monk who did not leave.
At one point, police reportedly tried to force the monks onto
buses to take them out of the area. The monks refused,
believing that they would be arrested if they left under
police supervision. Alerted to the possibility of a
confrontation between the monks and the police, the UN's
Human Rights Office and LICADHO dispatched staff members to
calm the situation. The UN and NGO members were able to
receive police agreement for the peaceful removal of the
monks in NGO vehicles. LICADHO, joined by ADHOC and the
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), later issued a
joint press statement criticizing the police for their
reaction to the peaceful demonstration, as well as for the
detention of a private citizen who allegedly questioned the
police for their treatment of the monks.

One Monk Dies Later: Police Claim Suicide
------------------------------------------

3. (U) The UN Human Rights Office notified the Embassy on
March 1 that one of the monks who may/may have participated
in the demonstration committed suicide at the pagoda where he
was staying. Media reports on March 2 note that NGOs are
investigating the circumstances surrounding the death. The
monk, Eang Sok Thoeun, age 32, came to Cambodia recently with
other Vietnamese monks from southern Vietnam. Police have
ruled the cause of death as a suicide, claiming that the
young monk slit his own throat and noting that there were
unspecified drugs found in the young man's possession.

4. (U) The Khmer Kampuchea Krom human Rights Organization
(KKKHRO), however, disputed the police analysis. One of the
organization's investigators noted that the monk's room had
two doors, and it would have been easy for someone from
outside the pagoda to enter the room. In addition, the
investigator thought it suspicious that the police buried the
body the same night, at around 0200 in the morning.
Witnesses reportedly said that the victim's throat wound was
very large, and inconsistent with the type of cut that one
could easily administer oneself. Human rights NGOs have also
expressed reservations about the police conclusions and are
reportedly attempting to exhume the body for a more detailed
medical examination.

Khmer Krom Organizations to Meet, Demonstrate on March 2
--------------------------------------------- -----------

5. (U) Several of Cambodia's Khmer Kampuchea Krom
organizations had petitioned the Ministry of Interior to hold
demonstrations in conjunction with the Vietnamese President's
visit. Police officials, however, reportedly told the groups
that if they wanted to organize rallies, any demonstrations

PHNOM PENH 00000342 002 OF 003


should be staged in pagodas. The MOI announced on March 1
that organizations could hold a one-hour meeting on March 2
at a pagoda in Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey district.
Organizers intended to continue their protests over reports
of the Vietnamese government's defrocking of 13 monks in
southern Vietnam. One local Khmer Krom organization told the
press that they plan to send a petition to the United Nations
calling for an intervention in southern Vietnam.

6. (U) In a public statement regarding the visit to
Cambodia by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, the
opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), which has promoted Khmer
Krom causes in the past, urged the Cambodian government to
press Vietnam to respect religious freedom, particularly with
respect to Khmer Krom monks, end human rights abuses against
all ethnic minorities, including the Montagnards and the
Khmer Krom, engage with Cambodian villagers along the border
with Vietnam about concessions of border lands, and to
rectify water disputes and livelihood issues in Ratanakiri in
northeastern Cambodia. SRP officials note that the RGC
likely allowed the March 2 demonstration and rally to proceed
as the Vietnamese President had left the country.

Embassy Meeting with Khmer Kampuchea Krom HR Organization
--------------------------------------------- ------------

7. (SBU) On March 2, Emboffs met with Ang Chanrith,
Director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights
Organization (KKKHRO), as well as Thatch Prey Cheakoeun, one
of the Vietnamese monks who participated in the demonstration
on February 27 and who had earlier fled to Cambodia in 2005.
They discussed the demonstration and the problems facing the
Khmer Krom in Cambodia and Vietnam. The monk noted that he
and 15 other Vietnamese monks came to Cambodia following the
February 2005 arrest of a fellow monk in Vietnam.
Originally, he and the others in his group received persons
of concern status from UNHCR, but he claims that status was
later lifted and he has been in legal limbo ever since. The
demonstration on February 27 was in response to the latest
Vietnamese government crackdown on over 200 monks on February
8, 2007, which allegedly took place in one of the southern
provinces of Vietnam in front of the provincial authority's
offices. The Vietnamese authorities reportedly arrested 13
monks and de-frocked them, after which other monks involved
in the protest fled to Cambodia.

8. (SBU) The Vietnamese monk said that in Vietnam, the
ethnic Khmer monks have been taking the lead on advocating
for religious freedom, land rights and other human rights
related to preserving Khmer culture. As a result, the monks
have borne the brunt of Vietnamese authorities' ire, but Ang
Chanrith claims that more than 30,000 Vietnamese Khmer Krom
have entered Cambodia, particularly Takeo province, over the
past several years to escape Vietnamese oppression. Ang
Chanrith (please protect) noted that the Cambodian National
Police allegedly issued a directive in late 2006 to Cambodian
border authorities and warned them to reject any Khmer Krom
who attempted to enter Cambodia from Vietnam. Chanrith
claims that he received a copy of the directive from a
sympathetic member of the border police, and that other
members of the Ministry of Interior friendly to his
organization have confirmed the document. His main concern
at the moment is the status of Vietnamese Khmer Krom in
Cambodia, as Chanrith suspects the RGC plans to deport many
of them to Vietnam at the behest of the Vietnamese
government. He has alerted the UN Human Rights Office and
UNHCR regarding his concerns, and urged both organizations to
intervene with appropriate RGC authorities.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) We understand the pagoda demonstration scheduled
for today attracted approximately 100 monks, a far lower
number than expected, according to Ang Chanrith. Chanrith
told us that police had surrounded the pagoda earlier in the
day to discourage monks from entering, and other head monks
in pagodas around Phnom Penh reportedly had directed monks in
their establishments to refrain from attending. We note that
there are a number of Khmer Krom organizations in Cambodia,
and the KKKHRO is considered by the UN Human Rights office as
one of the most credible. Post has not yet had sufficient
time to compare notes with the NGO community nor relevant UN
offices concerning the information contained in this report,
but will follow up with interlocutors and report separately.
We also understand that Khmer Krom communities in Australia
and the United States may be planning similar demonstrations

PHNOM PENH 00000342 003 OF 003


in support of the Vietnamese Khmer Krom monks. End Comment.
CAMPBELL

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