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Cablegate: Demonstrations Continue in Central Highlands, Arrests

VZCZCXRO7940
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0447/01 1161038
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251038Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4427
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3035
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4650

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000447

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH AND PRM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL PREF VM
SUBJECT: DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, ARRESTS
CONFIRMED

REF: A) HCMC 406 B) HCMC 414 C) HANOI 459 D) 07 HCMC 805 AND PREVIOUS

HO CHI MIN 00000447 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Demonstrations continued in the Central
Highlands this week, with reports of clashes between ethnic
minority groups and GVN authorities in Gia Lai, Dak Lak and Kon
Tum provinces. Discontent over land expropriation and zoning
policies and encouragement from "hostile foreign elements"
continue to be reported as the root causes behind the recent
outbreak of unrest. Reliable sources have confirmed the arrest
and detention of several ethnic minority "instigators" and
tighter security measures in neighboring districts close to the
clashes. End Summary.

Clashes Continue, Arrests in Gia Lai
-----------------------------------
2. (SBU) The Central Highlands demonstrations that began in
early April continued this week, with ConGen contacts reporting
clashes between joint police and military forces armed with
guns, electrical batons and tear gas and ethnic minority
demonstrators equipped with sticks and farming implements (Ref
A). One reliable ConGen contact said he overheard a Gia Lai
security official say that troops have been given full authority
to stop the demonstrations with force if necessary. While there
have been a few reports of injuries and fatalities on both
sides, these accounts have not been independently confirmed and
there have been no official media reports on the demonstrations
thus far. ConGen contacts in the region continue to dismiss
Montagnard Foundation, Inc.(MFI) reports alleging "thousands" of
demonstrators on the march and authorities "torturing"
protesters as exaggerated.

3. (SBU) ConGen contacts did confirm that demonstrations have so
far broken out in Gia Lai Province (Chu Se, Chu Pah, Duc Co, Ia
Grai, A Yun Pa, Krong Pa Districts), Dak Lak Province (Ea H'Leo
District) and Kontum Province (Sa Thay District). Demonstrators
included women, children and young men. Reliable contacts
confirmed that security has been tightened in the region,
especially in some Gia Lai hot spots where "nobody can either
get in or out." One contact reported his cell phone service was
cut off and that it is impossible to contact his associates in
certain "sensitive" areas. Another contact expressed concern
over some clashes involving Kinh (Vietnamese majority) civilians
and ethnic minorities, which could intensify the situation and
spur racial conflicts. (Comment: As noted Ref B, Dak Lak
People's Committee Chairman Cu noted that the array of free or
subsidized services available only to ethnic minorities has
begun to breed resentment among some members of the Vietnamese
majority. End Comment.)

4. (SBU) ConGen contacts in the region continue to cite
disgruntlement over provincial authorities' land expropriation
and zoning policies as the spark that ignited this most recent
round of protests, and also believe overseas groups may be
encouraging the demonstrators in order to garner "the
international community's attention" and thus, their assistance.
A reliable ConGen contact did report the arrest of six ethnic
minority people, including women, in Gia Lai Province for
allegedly instigating the demonstrations after receiving
instructions from "hostile foreign elements" (Ref C). Some
residents were also detained for investigation by authorities
for three to four days, then released. Post has not yet
confirmed the names of those arrested or detained. While
foreign groups may be encouraging ethnic minorities to continue
with the protests, the land issues that sparked this round of
demonstrations are unlikely to be resolved quickly or easily.

Land issues are the link
------------------------
5. (SBU) These protests in the Central Highlands come on the
heels of waves of lands rights demonstrations that have swept
through the Mekong Delta as well as HCMC and surrounding
provinces over the past year (Ref D). The abuse of authority by
political insiders to acquire land either for free or at greatly
reduced cost is emerging as the key area where the disease of
corruption most directly touches the lives of thousands of
ordinary Vietnamese. While a variety of methods are used, the
most common is for officials to use eminent domain to acquire
private land for the nominal "official" price of agricultural or
forest land before rezoning it to a much more profitable use,
such as industrial parks, housing development or large-scale
industrial farms. As with everything in Vietnam, the situation
varies enormously by province. In HCMC, regulations adopted in
the wake of 2007 land rights protests provide small landowners
and homeowners with a broad range of protections. The city
government is also moving to address, at least in part, past
injustices. In a few areas, most recently in Can Tho (Mekong
Delta) but also in Danang (Central Vietnam), senior provincial
officials have been sacked and even arrested. In other
provinces, authorities are ignoring or actively suppressing the

HO CHI MIN 00000447 002.2 OF 002


protests.

6. (SBU) In the Central Highlands these abuses have provoked
another dimension of discontent because they transfer land away
from long-time ethnic minority occupants to already wealthier
Kinh individuals and businesses.

7. (U) This cable was coordinate with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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