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Cablegate: The Ambassador Talks Education, Ngos and Religious Freedom

VZCZCXRO5824
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0887/01 2750837
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 010837Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4967
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3328
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 5195

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000887

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL AND PRM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV KIRF VM
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR TALKS EDUCATION, NGOS AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS

REF: A) HCMC 517 B) HCMC 448

HO CHI MIN 00000887 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: During the Ambassador's September 19 trip to
Kontum, he highlighted the contributions the USG and
international NGOs are making in the province, including the
recent opening of a USAID-funded ethnic minority boarding
school. Kontum leaders were open to the idea of further US
cooperation and investment, especially in education, health and
tourism. The Ambassador also met with the Bishop of Kontum to
discuss his efforts to reinvigorate church operations in the
diocese and the challenges of serving the province's Catholic
population, who account for 75 percent of the province's 170,000
religious adherents. End summary.

USAID-EMW School Opening in Kon Ray
-----------------------------------
2. (SBU) On September 19, the Ambassador helped kick off the
opening of a new ethnic minority boarding school in Kon Ray
district, a joint GVN-USG-NGO effort that will expand
educational access to the province's most disadvantaged
children. The school is entirely wheelchair accessible, and
includes a vocational training workshop, computer lab, library,
and boarding facilities for 240 students. Representatives of the
implementing NGO East Meets West (EMW) said similar schools they
have opened in other provinces usually see a doubling in
enrollment within a year, and they fully expect the same to
happen in Kontum.

3. (SBU) The school addresses many of the challenges unique to
ethnic minority students, including the long distances most
children must travel in order to get to schools normally located
in provincial and district towns located far from the rural
areas where most ethnic minority groups live. For many children
who do attend boarding schools in urban centers, the culture
shock and homesickness they experience as a result of living far
from their communities, often for the first time in their lives,
also inhibits their learning experience and contributes to the
high drop out rates reported for students transitioning from
primary to secondary institutions (ref A). Kontum Bishop
"Michael" Hoang Duc Oanh noted that these cultural differences
are exacerbated by socioeconomic changes. As economic
development projects take up more agricultural land, ethnic
minority adults have moved deeper into forest areas to continue
their traditional farming practices, leaving their children at
home with little adult supervision. The lack of discipline
leaves them ill-prepared for a structured school regimen once
they leave home.

4. (SBU) The Kon Ray boarding school addresses some of these
issues by literally bridging the gap for students by being
situated close to ethnic minority communities, rather than in
the district center. Students will be able to go home for
holidays and weekends more easily and parents will also be able
to visit their children and participate in school programs more
often. The project also successfully enlisted the support--both
financially and logistically--of local officials in the region.
EMW said local officials worked closely with the contractor and
the NGO to ensure the project closed on time and under budget,
including linking the school to water and power lines just days
before the official handover. EMW representatives added that the
high level of commitment by local officials boded well in terms
of ensuring continued financial support to keep the school up
and running.

Kontum People's Committee Welcome NGOs
--------------------------------------
5. (SBU) People's Committee Chairman Ha Ban welcomed the
Ambassador and HCMC Poloff, noting he was pleased by the
increase in visits from U.S. Mission officers and hoped more USG
delegations would continue to come to Kontum. Chairman Ban
pledged his continued support for the work of international NGOs
in Kontum, including Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped
(VNAH) and World Vision. Chairman Ban welcomed the Ambassador's
news regarding the upcoming USAID needs assessment to determine
other areas where the USG can support development, noting that
education and health projects are especially desired. Ban said
secondary boarding schools were now present in all nine
provincial districts, and assured the Ambassador all the schools
welcomed students regardless of their ethnic background or
religion. Chairman Ban said 42 percent of provincial residents
practiced religion, with the overwhelming majority being
Catholics (75 percent), Buddhists (16 percent), Protestants (8
percent) and Cao Dai (1 percent) accounted for the rest of the
province's 170,000 believers. The Chairman added that 50 percent
of Kon Tum residents belong to ethnic minority groups.

6. (SBU) Turning to economic development, the Chairman outlined
many of the challenges Kontum faces in terms of attracting
foreign investment due to its landlocked position, mountainous

HO CHI MIN 00000887 002.2 OF 002


terrain and lack of adequate transportation networks. Only 600km
of the province's 2,000km road network is paved, leaving most
roads subject to severe damage from torrential storms during the
rainy season. Looking to the future, the Chairman pinned great
hopes on increased economic growth via transportation
connections to the East-West Highway, new hydroelectric power
projects and efforts to promote ecotourism in the province's few
forested areas.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador welcomed the Chairman's support for
ethnic and religious diversity as well as the efforts officials
were making to improve bilateral cooperation, including the
participation of Kontum officials in the Humanitarian
Resettlement Section's recent workshop on U.S. refugee
admissions June 30 in Ho Chi Minh City. The Ambassador said the
increased exchanges by officials on both sides will help promote
better understanding of the changes taking place in the Central
Highlands in the United States.

Catholics Cautiously Optimistic
-------------------------------
8. (SBU) During his lunch with Bishop "Michael" Hoang Duc Oanh,
the Ambassador discussed the long history of the Catholic Church
in the region, beginning with the arrival of French missionaries
back in the 16th century. Today, Bishop Oanh's diocese covers
both Kontum and neighboring Gia Lai province, encompassing 344
parishes with 220,000 followers. Bishop Oanh, who was sent by
the Archbishop of Hanoi to serve in the region in 1969, said
conditions for Catholics have improved since the new legal
framework on religion went into effect in 2005. The Church is
negotiating with local authorities to expand and rebuild
churches, but the Bishop's main concern was finding and training
enough new priests to serve the diocese's burgeoning number of
followers.

9. (SBU) The Bishop said government leaders welcomed the
Church's growing role in charitable activities, but remained
mute on the issue of granting official approval for the Church's
educational and training programs. He noted that despite the
lack of legal status, some of the first children to attend his
new kindergarten classes were the sons and daughters of
provincial leaders. Bishop Oanh hoped these activities would
someday receive official sanction, and was cautiously optimistic
regarding the expanding opportunities for the region's ethnic
minorities, noting authorities were "trying their best."

10. (SBU) Comment: As one of the poorest and most logistically
challenged provinces in the Central Highlands, Kontum presents a
good opportunity for future USG assistance, especially given the
increasingly open attitude of local leaders to religious
organizations and international NGOs working on health and
education programs. Unlike Gia Lai and Dak Lak, Kontum has a
significantly lower number of illegal migrants to Cambodia, and
there are fewer reports of hostile encounters between provincial
authorities and ethnic minority groups. Part of the reason for
this could be the relatively low level of large-scale economic
development programs that has spurred resentment over GVN land
use policies in neighboring provinces, resulting in ethnic
minorities demonstrating over the loss of their ancestral lands
to coffee and rubber plantations.

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

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