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Cablegate: Vietnam Denies Unhcr Access to Highlands

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

060922Z Aug 01

2001HANOI01878 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ2946

PAGE 01 HANOI 01878 01 OF 03 061044Z
ACTION EAP-00

INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AID-00 ACQ-00 CIAE-00 SRPP-00 DS-00
OIGO-00 FBIE-00 UTED-00 VC-00 HHS-01 TEDE-00 INR-00
IO-00 L-00 VCE-00 NSAE-00 OIC-02 IRM-00 SS-00
TEST-00 USIE-00 IIP-00 DSCC-00 PRM-01 DRL-02 NFAT-00
SAS-00 /006W
------------------0E4A1C 061044Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3571
INFO AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
SECDEF WASHDC
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 001878

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV AND PRM
GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PGOV PREL PHUM VM UNHCR ETMIN HUMANR
SUBJECT: VIETNAM DENIES UNHCR ACCESS TO HIGHLANDS

REF: PHNOM PENH 1267 AND PREVIOUS

SUMMARY
-------
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HANOI 01878 01 OF 03 061044Z
1. VIETNAM HAS DENIED UNHCR ACCESS TO CENTRAL HIGHLAND
PROVINCES, PREVENTING UNHCR FROM LAUNCHING VOLUNTARY
REPATRIATION OF HIGHLANDS RESIDENTS WHO HAVE FLED TO
CAMBODIA. UNHCR WILL NOW CONSIDER LONGER-TERM MEASURES FOR
THE DISPLACED POPULATIONS IN RATTANAKIRI AND MONDOLAKIRI.
END SUMMARY.

2. ON JULY 27, UN HIGH COMMISSION FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR)
REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE JAHANSHAH ASSADI TOLD FOREIGN
EMBASSY REPRESENTATIVES IN HANOI THAT VIETNAM HAD REFUSED
UNHCR EVEN LIMITED ACCESS TO VIETNAM'S CENTRAL HIGHLANDS IN
ADVANCE OF PROPOSED VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION OF VIETNAMESE WHO
HAVE FLED TO CAMBODIA SINCE DISTURBANCES EARLIER IN THE
YEAR. DURING JUST-COMPLETED TRIPARTITE TALKS WITH VIETNAM
AND CAMBODIA, IN A DRAFT AGREEMENT VIETNAM AGREED TO ALLOW
UNHCR ACCESS TO RETURNEES AFTER THEIR RETURN, BUT UNHCR
WOULD REQUIRE ACCESS TO FIRST SURVEY THE HOME AREAS OF THOSE
WHO FLED, THEN TO MONITOR THEIR TREATMENT UPON THEIR RETURN,
BEFORE LAUNCHING A VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION PROGRAM. IT WAS
UNCLEAR WHETHER VIETNAM WOULD ALLOW UNCHR TO ACCOMPANY
RETURNEES FROM CAMBODIA TO VIETNAM. UNHCR HAD BEEN
"FLEXIBLE", SUGGESTING VISITS TO CERTAIN, "EASIER" AREAS
FIRST, AT A TIME TO BE CHOSEN BY THE VIETNAMESE, BUT STILL
HAD NO SUCCESS IN GETTING HANOI'S APPROVAL FOR THESE STEPS.

3. AS A RESULT, UNHCR MAY NOW HAVE TO REVISE ITS PLANNING IN
CAMBODIA, SHIFTING FROM SHORT-TERM MEASURES TO PROVIDE FOOD
AND SHELTER TO THE DISPLACED PERSONS, TO LONGER-TERM
MEASURES.

4. ASKED TO SPECULATE WHY VIETNAM DENIED ACCESS, ASSADI SAID
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HANOI 01878 01 OF 03 061044Z
HE GUESSED THERE WERE REAL PROBLEMS IN SOME AREAS, AND THAT
ALLOWING UNHCR IN COULD BE SEEN AS INTERNATIONALIZING A
LOCAL SITUATION. HE OBSERVED THAT THE INTERAGENCY
VIETNAMESE DELEGATION TO THE TRIPARTITE TALKS HAD
DEMONSTRATED SOME DIVISION OF OPINION; HE FELT THE
OBJECTIONS HAD COME FROM THE MINISTRY OF PUBLIC SECURITY,
WHILE THE MFA DID NOT APPEAR TO POSE PROBLEMS WITH THE UNHCR
PROPOSALS. ASSADI SAID HE HAD NOT OBSERVED THE CAMBODIANS
PRESSING THE VIETNAMESE TO BE FLEXIBLE ON THE QUESTION OF
ACCESS FOR THE UNHCR. HE CHARACTERIZED THE CAMBODIANS AS
BEING LARGELY QUIESCENT IN THE DISCUSSIONS BUT FELT THAT ALL
PARTICIPANTS HAD BEEN FRANK IN THEIR COMMENTS.

5. ASSADI SAID UNHCR WAS CONCERNED THAT THIS OUTCOME OF THE
TRIPARTITE TALKS COULD STIMULATE NEW DEPARTURES FROM
VIETNAM, AS INDIVIDUALS IN VIETNAM CAME TO UNDERSTAND THAT
THEY WOULD NOT IMMEDIATELY BE RETURNED HOME IF THEY MADE IT
TO CAMBODIA. UNTIL THIS POINT, ASSADI BELIEVES, THE FACT
THERE WERE TALKS ABOUT A POTENTIAL VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION
PROGRAM MAY HAVE DISCOURAGED SOME DEPARTURES FOR CAMBODIA.

6. DESPITE THE DENIAL OF ACCESS, ASSADI SAID POSITIVE
OUTCOMES OF THE TRIPARTITE TALKS INCLUDED THE FACT THAT THEY
TOOK PLACE AT ALL; THAT THE TWO GOVERNMENTS ACKNOWLEDGED A
UNHCR ROLE; THAT ALL PARTICIPANTS AGREED TO REMAIN IN
COMMUNICATION ON THE ISSUES; AND THAT VIETNAM ALLOWED THE
MEETING TO TAKE PLACE IN VIETNAM. ASSADI FELT UNCHR MAY
HAVE ENHANCED ITS CREDIBILITY WITH THE TWO GOVERNMENTS BY
DEMONSTRATING COMMITMENT TO SOLUTIONS AND NOT ONLY TO
PROTECTION OF DISPLACED PERSONS.

UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 01878 01 OF 03 061044Z
7. ASSADI REPORTED THAT THE PREVIOUS ROUND OF TRIPARTITE
TALKS HAD RESULTED IN A NON-PAPER OUTLINING AN AGREED
FRAMEWORK FOR REPATRIATION. THE FRAMEWORK WOULD ALLOW UNHCR
TO PROVIDE LOGISTICAL SUPPORT, REINTEGRATION ASSISTANCE FOR
RETURNEES AND ASSISTANCE TO AFFECTED COMMUNITIES, TO SUPPORT
THE REPATRIATION. BASED ON THE NON-PAPER, UNHCR HAD THOUGHT
IT WAS NEAR SECURING AGREEMENT ON ACCESS.

8. ASSADI ACKNOWLEDGED CRITICISM OF UNHCR'S APPROACH TO THE
CURRENT POPULATION OF DISPLACED VIETNAMESE IN CAMBODIA.
(CRITICS ARGUED THE UNHCR WAS NOT LIKELY TO BE GRANTED
ACCESS TO THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, AND SO SHOULD NOT HAVE
PROCEEDED WITH SCREENING OF THESE PEOPLE FOR REFUGEE
STATUS.) THERE ARE 315 "PERSONS OF CONCERN" PRESENTLY IN
CAMBODIA, ASSADI REPORTED, OF WHICH 60 ARE IN RATTANAKIRI
AND THE REST IN MONDOLKIRI. SOME 70-80 HAVE BEEN SCREENED
OUT, DESPITE UNHCR'S HAVING APPLIED LIBERAL CRITERIA AND
GIVEN APPLICANTS FOR REFUGEE STATUS BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.
HE STATED UNHCR IS NEITHER TRYING TO KEEP NUMBERS OF PERSONS
GRANTED REFUGEE STATUS LOW, NOR APPLYING POLITICAL CRITERIA
TO THE CASELOAD. THAT SAID, HE ACKNOWLEDGED THAT CRITICS
ARGUE UNHCR CANNOT KNOW THE SITUATION IN THE HOME REGIONS OF
THE APPLICANTS AND SO CANNOT REALISTICALLY ADJUDICATE
APPLICATIONS. (AS RECENT REFTELS FROM PHNOM PENH INDICATE,
THE UNHCR HAS APPARENTLY AGREED TO RE-EXAMINE THE CASES AND
NOT SIMPLY ASSUME THESE PEOPLE WILL OR SHOULD GO BACK TO
VIETNAM NOW.)
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HANOI 01878 02 OF 03 061044Z

9. ASSADI SAID THAT APPLICANTS ARE SCREENED ON A ROLLING
BASIS. MOST OF THESE SCREENED-OUT IMMEDIATELY LEFT THE
CAMPS IN CAMBODIA ON THEIR OWN. UNHCR NEITHER COUNSELS THEM
ABOUT RETURNING TO VIETNAM NOR ASKS THEM WHERE THEY PLAN TO
GO, DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF CAMBODIAN OFFICIALS AT
INTERVIEWS. AND, AS FAR AS THE UNHCR KNEW, NONE WERE
IMMEDIATELY ROUNDED UP BY THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES. ASSADI
SPECULATED MOST WOULD SIMPLY FADE INTO THE HOUSES OF FRIENDS
AND/OR THE JUNGLES.

10. ASSADI REPORTED THAT THE PROFILE OF NEW ARRIVALS FROM
VIETNAM CONTINUES TO INCLUDE BOTH MORE POLITICIZED
INDIVIDUALS AND PEASANTS. SEVENTY PERCENT ARE MALE.
RATTANAKIRI HAS 55 MEN AND SEVEN WOMEN, ALL BUT SIX FROM GIA
LAI, ESPECIALLY CHU PA DISTRICT; THE OTHER SIX ARE FROM DAK
LAK. MONDOLKIRI HAS 179 MEN, 72 WOMEN, ALL FROM DAK LAK,
ESPECIALLY BAN ME THUOT, DAK MIL AND DAK MONG DISTRICTS,
EXCEPT FOUR PEOPLE FROM GIA LAI AND TWO FROM LAM DONG. BOTH
CAMPS HAVE A MIX OF FAMILIES AND SINGLE MALES.

11. ASKED WHAT THE ATTITUDE OF THE DISPLACED PERSONS WAS
TOWARDS VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION, ASSADI'S FIELD STAFF FROM
CAMBODIA REPORTED THAT NO ONE AT EITHER RATTANAKIRI NOR
MONDOLKIRI WAS INTERESTED IN BEING RESETTLED IN A THIRD
COUNTRY. MORE RECENTLY, CAMP RESIDENTS HAVE BEGUN TO
MENTION HAVING RELATIVES ABROAD, BUT NONE APPEARS FOCUSED ON
LEAVING TO JOIN THEM. THE OTHER STAFFER CONCURRED WITH THAT
FINDING, ON THE BASIS OF HAVING MET ALL THE CAMP RESIDENTS
DURING MORE THAN TWO WEEKS IN BOTH FACILITIES. RESIDENTS DO
NOT SEEK RESETTLEMENT, HE SAID, FOR IT WOULD MEAN NEVER
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HANOI 01878 02 OF 03 061044Z
AGAIN HAVING CONTACT WITH FAMILY LEFT BEHIND, AND LOSING
THEIR IDENTITY. HE SAID HE BELIEVED MOST RESIDENTS WOULD
CONSIDER VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION IF UNHCR WERE FIRST ABLE TO
VISIT THEIR HOME AREAS. THE RESIDENTS HE MET HAD LEFT
VIETNAM TO LET THE WORLD KNOW ABOUT THE SITUATION IN THE
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, HE SAID, BUT WANTED TO RETURN TO THEIR
HOMES.

12. ASKED WHAT UNHCR'S NEXT STEPS WOULD BE, ASSADI REPORTED
THAT THE AGENCY WOULD ADJUST ITS CAMBODIA SCOPE OF WORK
TOWARDS A LONGER-TERM FOCUS. CONCERNS WOULD ARISE ABOUT
THIS APPROACH RESULTING IN "INSTITUTIONALIZATION" OF THE
SITUATION, AND THE CREATION OF QUASI-PERMANENT CAMPS,
SOMETHING BOTH THE CAMBODIANS AND VIETNAMESE APPEARED AT THE
TRIPARTITE TALKS TO WANT TO AVOID.

13. CHARGE ASKED FOR ASSADI'S COMMENT ON REPORTS THAT THERE
ARE MORE INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS AS WELL AS DISPLACED
PERSON IN CAMBODIA BEYOND THE ONES WHO HAD SOUGHT UNHCR'S
HELP. ASSADI'S STAFF ANSWERED THAT, WHILE CITING ANY SET
NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THAT SITUATION WOULD BE SPECULATION, THE
NUMBER WHO HAVE LEFT HOME IN VIETNAM CERTAINLY IS LARGER
THAN THE NUMBER WHO HAVE APPROACHED UNHCR. WHILE PERSONS OF
CONCERN TO UNHCR HAVE MENTIONED OTHER SMALL GROUPS THAT HAVE
LEFT VIETNAM, UNHCR HAS NO REPORTS OF LARGER NUMBERS.
GENERALLY, UNHCR HEARS OF NEW DEPARTURES WITHIN A WEEK OF
THEIR ARRIVAL IN CAMBODIA, THEY SAID.

14. CHARGE INFORMED THE GROUP ABOUT AMBASSADOR PETERSON'S
EARLY-JULY VISIT TO THE HIGHLANDS, DURING WHICH AUTHORITIES
BLOCKED HIM FROM VISITING GIA LAI. THE AMBASSADOR HAD
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 01878 02 OF 03 061044Z
CONCLUDED THAT RELIGION WAS NOT A FUNDAMENTAL CAUSE OF THE
DISTURBANCES, THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM APPEARED TO
RECOGNIZE THE REAL PROBLEMS AND LONG NEGLECT OF THE AREA IN
BOTH DAK LAK AND LAM DONG PROVINCES BUT NOT IN GIA LAI.

15. ASSADI REPORTED THAT THE VIETNAMESE DELEGATION TO THE
TRIPARTITE TALKS HAD GONE TO LENGTHS TO ENSURE THE DRAFT
TEXT OF THE AGREEMENT REFLECTED THEIR GOVERNMENT'S EFFORTS
TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION IN THE HIGHLANDS. THEY ALSO
EXPRESSED GRATITUDE FOR UNHCR'S WILLINGNESS TO HELP. CHARGE
NOTED THAT, DURING THE NINTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE COMMUNIST
PARTY OF VIETNAM HAD REMOVED OFFICIALS WHO HAD NOT DEALT
EFFECTIVELY WITH PROBLEMS IN MINORITY AREAS AND THAT A
RECENTLY HELD REGIONAL SESSION IN THE HIGHLANDS HAD BEEN
FOCUSED ON THE DEVELOPMENT NEEDS.

16. ASKED TO COMMENT ON A RECENT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH PRESS
RELEASE ON THE SITUATION IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, ASSADI
SAID THE ONE NEW ELEMENT IN THE STATEMENT WAS A CALL ON
UNHCR TO END SCREENING OUT APPLICANTS. ASSADI REPEATED THAT
UNHCR WAS EMPLOYING A VERY LOW THRESHOLD IN SCREENING FOR
PERSONS OF CONCERN AND FOR REFUGEES. THAT SAID, HE
EMPHASIZED THAT THE CREDIBILITY OF THE SCREENING PROCESS
REQUIRED THAT THE PROCESS NOT BE WIDE OPEN. UNHCR HAS NO
INFORMATION THAT SCREENED-OUT INDIVIDUALS FACE PROBLEMS UPON
RETURN TO VIETNAM. THE AGENCY WOULD CONSIDER CAREFULLY ANY
SUCH EVIDENCE AND QUICKLY ADJUST ITS PROCEDURES IF
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HANOI 01878 03 OF 03 061044Z
WARRANTED, ASSADI CONCLUDED. BASED ON REFTEL HE APPEARS TO
HAVE OPTED TO STOP THE SCREENING PROCESS UNTIL THE OPTIONS
ARE MORE CLEAR ON WHAT RETURN TO VIETNAM IS LIKELY TO MEAN.

HARTER

UNCLASSIFIED

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