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Cablegate: Central Highlands: Freedom of Religion or Freedom From It, in Dak Lak and Gia Lai Provinces

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

110440Z Dec 02

2002HOCHI01270 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ4864

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FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7211
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
SECDEF WASHDC
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001270

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREF SOCI KIRF VM RELFREE HUMANR ETMIN
SUBJECT: CENTRAL HIGHLANDS: FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR FREEDOM FROM IT, IN DAK LAK AND GIA LAI PROVINCES

REF: A) HCMC 00131 B) HCMC 00739 C) HCMC 01227

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. DURING A RECENT TRIP TO DAK LAK AND GIA
LAI PROVINCES IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, THE CONSUL GENERAL
MET WITH THEIR RESPECTIVE COMMITTEES ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
(CRA). IN THESE MEETINGS, CRA OFFICIALS DESCRIBED THE
ACTIVITIES OF THE SOUTHERN EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF VIETNAM
(SECV) IN FORWARDING APPLICATIONS FOR PROTESTANT CHURCH
RECOGNITION; DISCUSSED CRA PLANS FOR THE UPCOMING CHRISTMAS
SEASON; OUTLINED "UNETHICAL" PRACTICES ON THE PART OF SOME
HOUSE CHURCH LEADERS; AND GAVE UPDATES ON RELIGIOUS
ACTIVITIES IN THEIR PROVINCES. THE CG INQUIRED ABOUT
REPORTS OF HOUSE CHURCH CLOSINGS AND ARRESTS. THE CRAS
EITHER CLAIMED NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE PROBLEMS, OR SAID IF THE
PROBLEM INVOLVED "UNREGISTERED CONGREGATIONS", IT FELL UNDER
THE PURVIEW OF "OTHER AGENCIES." END SUMMARY.

DAK LAK PROVINCE
----------------
2. (U) EMBOFF AND CONGENOFFS MET WITH MR. VO VAN TAI,
CHAIRMAN OF THE DAK LAK COMMITTEE ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS (CRA)
ON NOVEMBER 25. PROTESTANTS IN DAK LAK BELONG EITHER TO THE
GVN-RECOGNIZED SECV, OR THE UNREGISTERED CHRISTIAN
FELLOWSHIP, SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS, CHRISTIAN EVANGELICAL,
OR PENTECOSTAL SECTS. MR. TAI DESCRIBED PROTESTANTISM IN
DAK LAK AS HISTORICALLY TAINTED BY A "DEGA" POLITICAL AGENDA
FOR AN AUTONOMOUS STATE. HE NOTED THAT THE "ECONOMIC
ADVERSITY" CAUSED BY THE PROLONGED DROP IN COFFEE PRICES
CONTRIBUTED TO SOCIAL PROBLEMS. HE CALLED THE "BREAKDOWN OF
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 01270 01 OF 03 110458Z
THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GVN, CAMBODIA, AND THE UNHCR
UNFORTUNATE."

3. (U) DAK LAK CRA CHAIRMAN TAI TOLD EMB/CONGENOFFS THAT AN
SECV REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE (RC) HAD BEEN ESTABLISHED IN
THE PROVINCE. ITS CHARTER SPECIFIES THE NUMBER OF
FOLLOWERS, PASTOR/MISSIONARY CREDENTIALS, ETC. THAT ARE
NEEDED IN ORDER TO REQUEST REGISTRATION AS AN SECV CHURCH.
ACCORDING TO MR. TAI, APPLICATIONS FROM TWO CONGREGATIONS
(ONE ETHNIC MINORITY, ONE VIETNAMESE KINH) ARE UNDER
CONSIDERATION NOW. THE SECV RC HAS PASSED ITS
RECOMMENDATION TO THE CRA, WHICH WILL DO FIELD INSPECTIONS
OF THE CONGREGATIONS AND THEN PASS ITS RECOMMENDATIONS TO
THE PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE. SINCE THESE ARE THE FIRST TWO
APPLICATIONS THE DAK LAK CRA HAS RECEIVED, TAI SAID HE IS
NOT CERTAIN HOW LONG THE PROCESS WILL TAKE. HE APPEARED
CONFIDENT, HOWEVER, THAT BY THE TIME OF A RETURN CONGENOFF
VISIT (ANYWHERE FROM 2-6 MONTHS), THERE WOULD BE TWO NEW
REGISTERED CHURCH CONGREGATIONS IN DAK LAK.

4. (U) FOR CHRISTMAS 2002, THE DAK LAK CRA PLANS TO MEET
WITH THE BISHOP, PRIESTS, PASTORS AND SECV BOARD OF
DIRECTORS (IN HCMC) TO REVIEW THE YEAR'S ACHIEVEMENTS IN
SOCIO-ECONOMIC POLICIES, ORDAINING NEW PRIESTS, BUILDING NEW
FACILITIES, ETC. ACCORDING TO CRA DIRECTOR TAI, HE
"COMMUNICATES CANDIDLY WITH THE RELIGIOUS DIGNITARIES" AS TO
WHAT GOOD HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED AND ALSO THE "NOT SO GOOD."
HE SAID THE DAK LAK PROVINCIAL CRA INSTRUCTS DISTRICT
AUTHORITIES TO DO THEIR BEST TO MEET RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS'
EXPECTATIONS FOR HELP IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION, AS A MEANS
OF CREATING "SOME EMPATHY BETWEEN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND
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PAGE 04 HO CHI 01270 01 OF 03 110458Z
RELIGIOUS GROUPS." MR. TAI SAID THAT HE AND HIS COMMITTEE
VISIT THE REGISTERED (CATHOLIC) CHURCHES WITH GIFTS DURING
THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS.

5. (U) DAK LAK CRA CHAIRMAN TAI NOTED THAT SOME PROTESTANT
HOUSE CHURCH LEADERS HAD ALLEGEDLY ENGAGED IN UNETHICAL
PRACTICES. ACCORDING TO MR. TAI, BELIEVERS HAD CALLED THE
CRA'S ATTENTION TO SOME PASTORS WHO HAD COLLECTED DONATIONS
AND SPENT THEM ON THEMSELVES WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR
CONGREGATIONS. HE ALSO STATED THAT SOME GVN-PROVIDED RELIEF
SUPPLIES HAD BEEN DIVERTED BY A FEW PASTORS FOR THEIR
PERSONAL USE. HE SAID THERE WERE REPORTS THAT "DEGA"
PROTESTANTS IN PARTICULAR USED DONATIONS TO PURCHASE MOBILE
PHONES AND MOTOR VEHICLES.

6. (U) QUERIED ABOUT EVENTS IN EAKAR DISTRICT, MR. TAI SAID
HE WAS AWARE OF TWO BUDDHIST PAGODAS THERE, BUT NO
(RECOGNIZED) CHURCHES. THERE IS A TEMPORARY SITE FOR
(RECOGNIZED) CATHOLIC WORSHIP, BUT THERE IS NO SECV-
RECOGNIZED PASTOR. WHEN PRESSED, HE ACKNOWLEDGED THAT EAKAR
AUTHORITIES HAD CRITICIZED SOME PROTESTANT FOLLOWERS "FOR
BAD PRACTICES", BUT WOULD NOT ELABORATE. DAK LAK CRA
CHAIRMAN TAI ACCEPTED AN UNDATED "NON-PAPER" LIST OF CASES
(REF B) ALLEGEDLY INVOLVING DOZENS OF DETENTIONS, "CHURCH
CLOSINGS", ETC., BUT DID NOT MAKE A COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW UP
ON EVERY CASE. HE DID OFFER TO BRING THE CG TO EAKAR
DISTRICT ON HER NEXT TRIP TO DAK LAK. (NOTE: POST WILL

UNCLASSIFIED

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H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 L-00 VCE-00 AC-01
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P 110440Z DEC 02
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7212
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
SECDEF WASHDC
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UNCLAS SECTION 02 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001270

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PAGE 02 HO CHI 01270 02 OF 03 110458Z
FROM IT, IN DAK LAK AND GIA LAI PROVINCES

FOLLOW UP ON THE LIST AND TAKE HIM UP ON THE OFFER.)

7. (U) MR. TAI ACKNOWLEDGED THAT "DUE TO LACK OF EDUCATION
AT THE DISTRICT, COMMUNE, AND VILLAGE LEVELS, SOMETIMES
MISTAKES ARE MADE. WE DO INSPECTIONS AND TRY TO CORRECT
MATTERS WHEN WRONGDOINGS ARE CALLED TO OUR ATTENTION."
(NOTE: NATIONAL-LEVEL COMMITTEE ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
OFFICIALS HAVE INDICATED THAT THE CURRENT DECREE ON RELIGION
ONLY ALLOWS THEM TO SUGGEST CORRECTIONS, NOT REQUIRE THEM.
THE GVN IS WORKING TO REVISE THE DECREE. END NOTE.)
ACCORDING TO MR. TAI, WHILE THE PROVINCE'S 412 "SUB-
ASSOCIATIONS (UNREGISTERED HOUSE CHURCHES) ARE NOT
APPROPRIATE, IN REALITY THEY ARE ACCEPTED."

8. (U) WHEN ASKED TO IDENTIFY DAK LAK'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE
FOR 2003 AND IN THE LONG-TERM, CRA CHAIRMAN TAI CITED
IMPROVING ETHNIC MINORITY LIVING CONDITIONS -- TO EQUAL, OR
COME CLOSER TO THAT OF THE VIETNAMESE KINH IN THE PROVINCE.
TO MEET THIS CHALLENGE, HE IS CONVINCED THAT FOREIGN JOINT
VENTURES AND INVESTMENT ARE NEEDED.

GIA LAI PROVINCE
----------------
9. (U) MOVING TO GIA LAI, CG MET WITH THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
OF THE COMMITTEE ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS (CRA), MR. MAI KIM
DONG, ON NOVEMBER 26. HE RELATED THAT AN SECV
REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE (RC) HAD BEEN ESTABLISHED THERE,
CONSISTING OF TWO ETHNIC MINORITY PASTORS AND ONE VIETNAMESE
KINH PASTOR. THE GIA LAI SECV RC'S CHARTER STRESSES
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PAGE 03 HO CHI 01270 02 OF 03 110458Z
"SERVING CHRIST, THE PEOPLE, AND THE NATION." GIA LAI
PROVINCE HAS THREE REGISTERED SECV "ASSOCIATIONS"
(CHURCHES), WITH TWO MORE APPLICATIONS PENDING. IN ORDER TO
APPLY FOR RECOGNITION, A CONGREGATION MUST HAVE 100 OR MORE
MEMBERS, BUT MR. DONG SAID HE BELIEVED THE SECV RC CHARTER
LEFT OPEN THE POSSIBILITY FOR "SUB-ASSOCIATIONS" TO COMBINE
AND APPLY. HE ESTIMATED THAT THERE WERE 312 SUB-
ASSOCIATIONS IN THE PROVINCES, AND SAID THEY WERE ALL
"OPERATING NORMALLY." ACCORDING TO HIM, THERE ARE ABOUT
94,000 PROTESTANTS IN GIA LAI.

10. (U) DEPUTY CHAIRMAN DONG POINTED OUT THAT WHILE "DEGA"
BELIEVERS WORSHIP JESUS, THEY HAVE BROKEN WITH THE SECV RC
AND ARE NO LONGER RECOGNIZED BY THE SECV. ACCORDING TO HIM,
THE SECV BELIEVES HAVING "DEGA" MEMBERS WILL NEGATIVELY
AFFECT THEIR OPERATIONS.

11. (U) REGARDING OTHER RECOGNIZED RELIGIOUS FOLLOWERS IN
GIA LAI, MR. DONG COUNTED NEARLY 76,000 CATHOLICS WHO
WORSHIP IN 40 CHURCHES. HE TOLD EMB/CONGENOFFS THERE WERE
TWO PRIESTS STUDYING IN THE U.S. RIGHT NOW. (NOTE: WHILE
PRIESTS/MONKS/NUNS FROM REGISTERED RELIGIONS ARE ALLOWED TO
TRAVEL OVERSEAS, POST KNOWS FOR A FACT THAT AT LEAST IN
HCMC, MANY "UNREGISTERED" HOUSE CHURCH PASTORS REGULARLY
TRAVEL ABROAD. END NOTE.) BUDDHISTS IN GIA LAI NUMBER
NEARLY 66,000. SIXTEEN NEW PAGODAS WERE OPENED IN 2002, FOR
TOTAL OF 70. ACCORDING TO MR. DONG, THERE ARE 10 MONKS
STUDYING IN THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA RIGHT NOW, AND 300 OTHER
MONKS AND NUNS WHO ARE IN VARIOUS STAGES OF TRAINING IN GIA
LAI PROVINCE. HE CHARACTERIZED THE BUDDHISTS AS "POOR
COMPARED TO THE CATHOLICS," SO THE PROVINCE WOULD PROVIDE
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PAGE 04 HO CHI 01270 02 OF 03 110458Z
TRANSPORTATION FOR THEIR DELEGATES TO THE BUDDHIST CONGRESS
IN HANOI THIS MONTH. ALTHOUGH ONE OF OUR ESCORTS WAS
NUDGING MR. DONG TO WRAP IT UP, DONG PROCEEDED TO SAY THERE
WERE ABOUT 1000 SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS AND CHRISTIAN
EVANGELICAL BELIEVERS IN GIA LAI - SEPARATE FROM THE SECV -
AS WELL AS ABOUT 3000 CAO DAI BELIEVERS.

12. (U) WHEN ASKED TO IDENTIFY GIA LAI'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE
FOR 2003 AND THE LONG-TERM, CRA DEPUTY CHAIRMAN DONG
SIDESTEPPED THE QUESTION BY SAYING HIS COMMITTEE "ONLY
APPROVES PROPOSALS FROM THE SECV RC." ACCORDING TO HIM, THE
CRA ONLY DEALS WITH "REGISTERED CHURCH PROBLEMS. OTHER
AGENCIES DEAL WITH UNREGISTERED CONGREGATIONS."

13. (U) BOTH DAK LAK CRA CHAIRMAN TAI AND GIA LAI CRA
DEPUTY CHAIRMAN DONG APPEARED PROUD OF THE NATIONAL CRA
PUBLISHING HOUSE, ESTABLISHED IN 1999. MR. TAI PRODUCED A
BROCHURE DETAILING THE DOZENS OF MATERIALS IN STOCK.
ACCORDING TO MR. DONG, THE SECV "HAS APPLIED" TO HAVE THE
NATIONAL CRA PUBLISHING HOUSE PRINT THE OLD AND NEW
TESTAMENTS IN THE JARAI AND BAHNAR ETHNIC MINORITY
LANGUAGES. PROTESTANT MATERIALS AND WRITINGS BY CATHOLIC
BISHOPS WHO PREACH IN ETHNIC MINORITY LANGUAGES ARE ALSO
SOUGHT AFTER, BUT NONE HAS BEEN PUBLISHED YET. VIETNAMESE-
LANGUAGE VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE ARE ALREADY AVAILABLE.

COMMENT

UNCLASSIFIED

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TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 L-00 VCE-00 AC-01 NSAE-00
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FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7213
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
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USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 03 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001270

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FROM IT, IN DAK LAK AND GIA LAI PROVINCES

-------
14. (SBU) BOTH MR. TAI AND MR. DONG CITED ECONOMIC
PROBLEMS, LARGELY DUE TO THE DROP IN INTERNATIONAL COFFEE
PRICES, AS THE CAUSE FOR ETHNIC MINORITY VILLAGERS' POOR
LIVING CONDITIONS. ENSUING PROTESTS AND FLIGHTS TO CAMBODIA
WERE INCITED BY "HOSTILE FORCES" IN THE U.S. (REF A).
HOWEVER, COMPARED TO PREVIOUS VISITS, THE TONE WAS NOT AS
STRIDENT OR HOSTILE. ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ABOUT CHURCH
CLOSINGS AND DETENTIONS WERE CAREFULLY WORDED TO INDICATE
THAT THE COMMITTEES ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS WERE ONLY
RESPONSIBLE FOR THE "RECOGNIZED" SECV.

15. (SBU) GVN RECOGNITION OF THE SECV IN APRIL 2001
PERMITS THE REGISTRATION OF SECV CHURCHES. THERE HAS BEEN
NO RUSH OF CENTRAL HIGHLANDS CONGREGATIONS TO REGISTER. NO
DOUBT THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR THIS, AS DAK LAK AND GIA
LAI PROVINCES PROCESS THEIR FIRST REGISTRANTS. PROVINCIAL
AUTHORITIES AND THE PROTESTANT HOUSE CHURCHES ARE WARY OF
EACH OTHER - HOW MUCH CONTROL/OVERSIGHT WILL BE EXERCISED;
CAN THEY TRAIN ADEQUATE NUMBERS OF PASTORS; WILL THEY BE
ALLOWED TO FOLLOW THEIR RELIGIOUS CONSCIENCES (DAK LAK'S MR.
TAI WAS ADAMANT THAT WHILE PRAYER IS FINE, HUNGER STRIKES
ARE NOT). EVEN IF THE PROVINCIAL SECV RCS HAVE DIVORCED
THEMSELVES FROM "DEGA" ELEMENTS (ESPECIALLY IN GIA LAI),
THIS DOES NOT ERASE YEARS OF ENMITY. THE 100-MEMBER MINIMUM
IS HARD TO ACHIEVE IN THE SPARSELY POPULATED PARTS OF THIS
REGION, THOUGH IT APPEARS INDIVIDUAL CONGREGATIONS CAN
COMBINE FOR LARGER NUMBERS FOR REGISTRATION PURPOSES.

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PAGE 03 HO CHI 01270 03 OF 03 110458Z
16. (SBU) POST DOES NOT ANTICIPATE THAT MANY CONGREGATIONS
WILL APPLY FOR RECOGNITION IN THE NEAR FUTURE, AS THEY WILL
WANT TO WAIT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO THE FIRST REGISTRANTS.
THIS WILL SET UP A PROTRACTED PERIOD OF CONTENTION AND/OR
CONFRONTATION IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, AS THE BOUNDARY
BETWEEN THE LEGAL RIGHT OF VIETNAMESE CITIZENS TO WORSHIP IN
THEIR HOMES AND THE GVN REQUIREMENT THAT ALL CHURCHES BE
REGISTERED IS TESTED. YAMAUCHI

UNCLASSIFIED

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