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Cablegate: Central Highlands Leaders Roll Out Welcome Mat in Dak Lak

VZCZCXRO5188
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0414/01 1140412
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 230412Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4392
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3017
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4615

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000414

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, PRM/A, AND ECA/PE/V/F/A FOR MICHAEL CAIN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PREF SOCI ECON EAGR VM
SUBJECT: CENTRAL HIGHLANDS LEADERS ROLL OUT WELCOME MAT IN DAK LAK

REF: HCMC 406

HO CHI MIN 00000414 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------

1. (SBU) During the Ambassador's two-day trip to Dak Lak March
17-18, Central Highlands officials spoke positively about their
recent Voluntary Visitor (VolVis) trip to the United States,
reiterating their desire to promote more two-way exchanges.
While skeptical about the perceived credibility of a possible
GVN-USG public information campaign to clarify US resettlement
requirements, Dak Lak leaders reacted favorably to the idea of
having a "trusted" NGO with experience in Vietnam promote safe
migration and provide accurate information about USG
resettlement. Provincial People's Committee Chairman Lu Ngoc Cu
described a litany of government assistance programs and plans
to assist ethnic minorities, adding that the proportion of
government resources devoted to ethnic minorities is beginning
to breed resentment among the majority ethnic Vietnamese
population. Bad weather will mean lower yields for Dak Lak's
biggest cash crop -- coffee -- but some farmers see a bright
future through a new USAID-funded cocoa cultivation program.
End summary.

Seeing is Believing
-------------------

2. (SBU) Members of the Central Highlands Steering Committee
(CHSC), a centrally-appointed GVN advisory group, gave a glowing
account of their travels in the U.S. under the auspices of the
Voluntary Visitor Program in March, which included provincial
leaders from Dak Lak, Kontum and Gia Lai. The officials told
the Ambassador they appreciated the opportunity to meet with
people "face-to-face," and said they were surprised by the lack
of current and accurate information the American public had
regarding conditions in the Central Highlands. Noting "nothing
is the same as seeing it for yourself," the group agreed more
exchanges between the U.S. and Vietnam were needed to clear up
misunderstandings and strengthen ties.

3. (SBU) When asked about the demonstrations by Montagnard
advocacy groups in Greensboro, North Carolina, CHSC officials
were unperturbed, noting they had been well-briefed by their US
hosts on the potential for protests and understood why some
groups would be upset about their visit given the "lack of
accurate information" they had regarding ethnic minority
developments in the Central Highlands. CHSC officials repeated
their desire to host US groups on visits to the region so they
could see the changes for themselves. (Comment: Information from
news reports and contacts in North Carolina suggest that the
delegation's defensive attitude and sometimes impolite behavior
-- walking out of meetings and home hospitality events, for
example -- may also have contributed to tensions. End comment.)

Trusted NGO Partner Needed
--------------------------

4. (SBU) CHSC officials also raised concerns about the continued
"migration" of ethnic minorities from the Central Highlands to
Cambodia, noting the increasing number of reports that human
traffickers are luring their customers with promises of economic
benefits and "an easy life" when resettled to a third country.
CHSC officials said going the "legal way" (i.e., through the
Consulate's Humanitarian Resettlement Section (HRS)), requires
funds to travel the 300 kilometers from Dak Lak to Ho Chi Minh
City and to pay the non-refundable interview fees--an option not
available for many poor ethnic minority families. (Note: There
is no interview fee. The cost of travel is a significant burden
for Visas-93 applicants, but we do not know why the officials
mentioned a nonexistent interview fee. Applicants more commonly
complain to HRS about the cost of obtaining GVN-issued
documents. End note.)

5. (SBU) CHSC officials were somewhat skeptical that a joint
public awareness campaign would help to counter the rumors
circulating about USG resettlement programs, saying ethnic
minorities "would not believe what the GVN or the USG told
them." The officials did respond favorably to the idea of
allowing an NGO with experience in Vietnam to disseminate
information about safe migration and USG resettlement policies.
They suggested coverage of the "realities" of the UNHCR camps in
Cambodia would be valuable. They also welcomed HRS's offer to
hold workshops for local officials on USG resettlement policies.
(Note: HRS is now working with its GVN contacts in HCMC to
develop a plan that will win central government approval on this
sensitive topic. End note.)

Chairman Cu on Ethnic Minority Aid
----------------------------------


HO CHI MIN 00000414 002.2 OF 002


6. (SBU) Dak Lak People's Committee Chairman Lu Ngoc Cu briefed
the Ambassador on a variety of GVN assistance programs for
ethnic minorities, primarily through Program 134, which provides
basic sanitation, housing and allocation of residential and
agricultural lands, as well as Programs 139 and 159, which offer
comprehensive medical, educational and electricity subsidies.
To date, Chairman Cu said, Dak Lak has allocated over 8,000
hectares of farm land and provided access to clean water to all
ethnic minority villages in the province. All thirteen
districts have boarding schools for ethnic minority children and
electricity has been provided to 2,238 villages. Cu said Dak
Lak has spent VND 94 billion (USD 5,875,000) of its provincial
budget on ethnic minorities' medical insurance in 2007, a 30 per
cent increase from 2006. Cu expects all Program 134 targets to
be met by the mid-2008, adding that 411 more villages will be
wired into the provincial power grid by the end of 2009.

7. (SBU) Though these assistance programs are making a material
difference in the lives of ethnic minorities, Chairman Cu's
comments made it clear they can also be another source of
tension between ethnic minority and Kinh majority communities.
Cu said that "ethnic minorities get what Kinh people (the
Vietnamese majority) must pay for" and said "Kinh people have
started to complain that they are now the ones facing
discrimination."

Coffee vs. Cocoa
----------------

8. (SBU) Coffee growers in Dak Lak, which with 178,000 hectares
devoted to coffee cultivation is Vietnam's largest coffee
growing province, said unfavorable weather this year will reduce
yields by half in some areas, offsetting the boon of high global
coffee prices. But in a few years, coffee profits may be
rivaled by the rise of a new cash crop in the Central Highlands
-- cocoa.

9. (SBU) In an effort to promote crop diversification and assist
poor and ethnic minority farmers in the area, the USAID-funded
ACDI/VOCA program began working in 2006 with approximately 1,600
farmers in Dak Lak to promote the cultivation of cocoa. Most
are members of the M'Nong ethnic minority who live outside Dak
Lak's coffee growing areas. Cocoa is an especially advantageous
crop for Vietnamese farmers because prices have remained
relatively stable for the last several years and world cocoa
consumption continues to grow rapidly. In addition, cocoa
requires less irrigation and in Vietnam it is more often grown
in the shade of existing crops than coffee. Success will take
time, however, since cocoa trees require about three years to
produce their first pods and producing high quality cocoa
requires careful local processing. Farmers and local partners
we spoke with agree it will take several years of steady funding
and training to make the program a success.

10. (SBU) Comment: The Ambassador's trip took place before the
recent wave of protests struck the Central Highlands (reftel).
Reporting on those developments are being sent septel. End
Comment.

11. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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