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Cablegate: December 2002 Gassing Incident in Lai Chau

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Reports of a gas attack on Hmong
Protestants in Lai Chau province on December 29, 2002 appear
to have a basis in fact. However, the gas appears to have
been something like pepper spray or tear gas rather than more
lethal poison gas as claimed in some reports. There are no
confirmed deaths as a result of this attack. End summary.

2. (SBU) Two Protestant evangelists have shared with
Embassy reports they have gathered from various sources
regarding a single gassing incident that took place on
December 29, 2002 in Hoi Huong hamlet of Dien Bien district
of Lai Chau. It appears that 23 local officials, primarily
police, came to the building where the Hmong had gathered to
worship. One source said that when the authorities tried to
confiscate the worshipers' Bibles and songbooks, the women
and children in the congregation left (apparently with some
of the Bibles and songbooks), leaving 90 men. The
authorities then withdrew an unknown distance. Then there
were two "explosions," immediately followed by some unknown
hot gas, which caused burning sensations in the mouth, nose,
and eyes, as well as difficulty breathing.

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3. (SBU) According to one source, four men were
hospitalized as a result of the gas, but all were out of the
hospital by some time before February 19. Accounts differ on
whether the victims included women. One source has claimed
one woman miscarried after the attack.

4. (SBU) When asked on January 29 about reports of a gas
attack, the Lai Chau provincial People's Committee's Chief of
Chancery confirmed, "co su viec" ("there was something") but
stressed that what actually happened was "completely
different" from international reports. However, he refused
to elaborate or to answer any more questions and referred
inquiries to the province's International Cooperation
Department (ICD). Subsequent attempts to telephone the ICD
and the hospital where some gassing victims were reportedly
taken have been unsuccessful.

5. (SBU) After two Hmong eyewitnesses recounted the episode
to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North), church
officials in Hanoi arranged for a meeting with the Ministry
of Public Security, which reportedly promised to investigate
the incident. However, as of February 26, there had been no

6. (U) The two sources separately provided Embassy copies
of a report apparently written by Hoi Huong residents within
about two hours of the gassing. They allegedly compelled
three local officials involved in the incident to sign as
witnesses. The following is Embassy's informal translation.

Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Independence - Freedom - Happiness

A Report by Witnesses

Today, 29 December 2002 at about 9:00 AM, we citizens of Hoi
Huong hamlet, Muong Nha commune, Dien Bien District, Lai Chau
province, went to the house of Vu Say So to pray and worship.
The reason is because we are Protestant Christians belonging
to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam based at 2 Ngo Tram
Street in Hanoi. At that time, a whole team of officials of
Dien Bien District Lai Chau, implementing Plan 184, came into
the house. There were 23 people in this Plan 184 working
delegation. At the same time we were about to start our
worship service, someone released a hot gas into the house.
It had a hot smell and it penetrated our mouths, noses, and
eyes, and it made us all collapse.

Also at that time, three cadres came down the road from Dien
Bien or Da Dong. Six people who saw them were Vu A Tu, Sung
A Vu, Vu A Lan, Vu Pha Sang, Vu Thi Lu, and Vu Sua Se. These
six people heard the explosion set off by the three cadres,
who then helped each other out of the building covering their
faces and noses, laughing. They were Vu Da Chu (illegible)
of Dien Bien district, Tra A Pao of Dien Bien district
police, and Lo Van Tien, Dien Bien district Youth Union
official. They were seen laughing, Pao covering his mouth,
Tien holding his head high. Meanwhile other cadres were
outside or in the house next door.

At this time Mr. Vu Sung So, who was outside, saw three
cadres leave the house and run away.

Those who were strongly affected by the gas include: Giang
Thi My, Mua A Khoi, Sung Thi Do, Vu Thi Senh, Lau Thi Chu,
Lau Thi Mua, Vang Thi Do, Vu Thi Lia, and Mua Thi My. There
were other people affected as well.

The people named became very sick and were taken to the Ban
Khoan Hospital (in) Muong Nha commune.
If after this something bad happens, injury or death, then
the 184 working delegation (or unit) must bear responsibility
for the people sickened by the hot gas, and must compensate

We wrote this report before 11:15 a.m. the same day.

Report prepared by Lau Phai Senh (signature)

Representative of the village Vu A Cong (signature)

Witnesses (signatures)
Vu Thi Lu
Vu A Lau
Sung A Vu
Vu A Da (or Dia)
Vu A Tu

Affirmed by village chairman Vu Nha Ca (signature)

Working group (or unit) 184 (signatures)
Vu A Chu
Chang A Pao
Lu Van Tien

End quote.

7. (SBU) Comment. This incident underscores the mix of
rumor and fact that complicate balanced reporting on
religious freedom and practice in remote parts of Vietnam.
What may have been GVN crowd control techniques to break up
what appeared to local officials an illegal gathering under
Vietnam's strict regulations on assembly led to
unsubstantiated and apparently untrue international reports
of poison gas and Christian martyrs. One of the most
important factors preventing a more accurate picture of what
really happened is the GVN's own self-defeating lack of

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