Cablegate: Mennonites Turn Up the Volume On Complaints Of

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

REF: HCMC 0111


1. (SBU) In a flurry of conversations with ConGenoffs over the
past week, a Mennonite church leader and several of his colleagues
have lodged serious complaints of stepped-up religious repression
by government officials. The allegations include arrests,
beatings, destruction of property, and six cases of poisoning.
The pastors also asked for assistance in following up on three
possible POW/MIA cases. Post is endeavoring to verify the more
specific allegations, but finds some of them initially more
credible than others. However, this pastor has accurately
reported on specific incidents of GVN harassment in the past. The
Mennonites currently claim ten pastors serving 10,000 believers

Increased Surveillance in HCMC

2. (SBU) Last week, Post's primary contact on Mennonite issues
initiated a rather hurried conversation with an FSN he had met in
the past. When they met in a coffee shop the next day, he
explained that his activities were being closely monitored and he
didn't feel comfortable mentioning any foreign names. In addition
to the claims of around-the-clock surveillance, he believed that
local gangs were cooperating with the police to intimidate him.
As proof, he pointed to four vehicular accidents in the past two
weeks, including one incident where the other driver had yelled:
"Go to hell. You're dead." Two local police had recently visited
him at home to tell him that he was being closely watched. The
officers left with sinister threats to return in force, once their
superiors had given them the green light.

Border Guard Turned Pastor

3. (SBU) A day after this secretive meeting with FSN, the same
pastor and a colleague apparently felt comfortable enough to meet
with Poloff at the Consulate General. He had visited the ConGen
just a few weeks earlier with several other pastors as well
(reftel). This time, he brought along a Mennonite leader from the
Central Highlands. This other pastor had been a member of the
border police until losing his job for sympathizing with
Christians in 1989. (His former boss, a Colonel, lost his job in
1990 for the same reason.) Since 2000, he had been working
closely within the Mennonite movement in Dak Lak, Kon Tum, and Gia
Lai. He claimed that the provincial authorities had encouraged
him to register his churches, only to reject the applications
without explanation.

4. (SBU) The Central Highlands pastor had been detained and
beaten several times over the last 13 years for his religious
activities. (He casually remarked that police had beaten him
about the face two days earlier, although ConGenoffs did not
observe any marks or bruises, or difficulty in speaking.)
Moreover, the government had repeatedly refused his applications
for a residency permit and ID. (Both pastors asked the ConGen to
confront provincial authorities on this issue.) Pressure on his
Mennonite congregations had forced them to disperse, something he
was trying to reverse. In February of this year, police had
disrupted a service at his home and confiscated religious articles
and several motorcycles. (He intimated that the motorcycles may
have been improperly registered.) The worshippers were able to
convince the police not to arrest him, but he was forced to move.
The house where he now lived with his relatives was under
extremely close surveillance. Local officials had threatened to
prevent the children of those relatives from sitting for the
national university entrance examination as long as he remained in
their home.

Repression in the Central Highlands

5. (SBU) The two pastors elaborated on a host of charges over
the past week, including claims that government officials
continued to beat and threaten Protestant Banar, Ede, and Gia Rai
ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands in an effort to
suppress their religious beliefs. They accused the GVN of sending
in military forces to reinforce local police units in enforcing
restrictions, and pointed to an organized campaign to promote the
restoration of traditional, ritualistic (i.e., not Christian)
practices. While they were short on specifics, and many of the
abuses cited occurred as long as two years ago, they did offer to
provide proof. Unfortunately, their offers to provide evidence in
the past have sometimes failed to materialize.

6. (SBU) In one particular case, the pastors asked ConGen to
intercede on behalf of over 450 Hmong ethnic minority families who
had moved from Son La in the North to Dak Lak over the past year
to escape arrest and persecution for their religious beliefs. The
new migrants had reportedly asked the pastors if they should
resort to using violent means, behavior that the pastors claimed
to have discouraged as unchristian. The pastors were proud to say
that, while the GVN was convinced of their involvement in some of
the ethnic violence that has plagued the Central Highlands over
the past two years, they had never pursued such methods. When
asked if the congregations were apolitical or non-FULRO, however,
they were quick to add that while they had never sought out former
FULRO members for their church, they had never discriminated
against them either. In fact, they proudly claimed to have
trained "both former FULRO members and CPV cadres to become
leaders of Mennonite congregations."

A New Province is Heard From

7. (SBU) The pastors made quite specific claims of GVN
mistreatment of 700 Xtieng ethnic minority households in Binh
Phuoc Province, located along the Cambodian border. According to
the pastors, nearly 3000 Xtieng in Loc Ninh District had been
encouraged by the GVN to register their seven Mennonite "sub-
associations" (house churches). Instead of legal recognition,
however, they had incurred greater repression in the form of
arrests and beatings. Recently, police and military units had
bulldozed over 100 hectares of rice fields, leaving the villagers
to live on just four meals per week. The pastors promised to
provide photographs.

8. (SBU) In between the two meetings at the ConGen, the pastors
somehow managed to attend a conference in Loc Ninh that had been
in the planning stages for some time. While 150 village leaders
were able to gather, police prevented another 150 from reaching
the site. (In an interesting footnote, the pastors noted that
police who had ringed the area throughout the meeting were invited
to join the villagers for lunch while the pastors slipped away.)
They acknowledged that some of the villagers were "former FULRO
members," and that the Mennonites had used the village in the past
as a training site.

Troubling Allegations of Poisonings

9. (SBU) The pastors cited six cases of poisonings by government
agents. Three of the six were pastors who had been imprisoned in
Buon Me Thuot in late 2002 and were now dead. Three other ethnic
minority religious workers from Kon Tum had lost their memories
and ability to function after government agents posing as visitors
from their home villages had poisoned them in Cambodia. They were
now living with their families in Pleiku, where the pastors
claimed to visit them regularly. (Their local interpreter, also
an ethnic minority pastor, is a former FULRO member.) The pastors
asked for ConGen assistance in arranging blood tests, because they
were certain they could arrange for ConGenoffs to meet with the
victims in either HCMC or Pleiku. Both pastors pointed out that
such acts of poisoning were common in the Quang Ngai area, the
home province of several government officials in the Central

Testing the Waters on POW/MIA Issues

10. (SBU) The pastors shared information and photographs they
had received from various sources purporting to show the remains
of two American servicemen in the Dalat area. They had also been
in contact with someone who claimed to know of an American
serviceman living with his Vietnamese wife and children in the
area between Lam Dong and Binh Thuan provinces. (ConGen is
already aware of a similar-sounding case that the Joint Task Force-
Full Accounting investigated last year.) The pastors expressed
deep concern that possession of this information might cause
serious problems for them and their sources. Poloff promised to
put the sources in direct contact with someone from JTF-FA at
Embassy Hanoi.


11. (SBU) Much of the information provided by these two contacts
contains sufficient detail to be verifiable, but gaining access to
some of the sites and individuals described will be easier said
than done. While some of the information on poisonings appears to
be new and troubling, most responsible observers have already
debunked a similar story about three fatal poisonings in Dak Lak.
The fact that they didn't know the names of the three surviving
victims was inconsistent with their claims to have visited the men
regularly now, and been their spiritual guides in the past. Also
startling was the emphasis on efforts to legalize the status of
Mennonite sub-associations, a 180-degree reversal of their policy
to oppose any accommodation with the GVN. More troubling was the
open flaunting of FULRO connections (as "former" as they may be),
i.e., the frequent references to FULRO members and violence.

12. (SBU) While we have enjoyed a generally good relationship
with Mennonite leaders in the past, the sudden spike in the level
of histrionics over the past few weeks, coupled with the apparent
policy reversal on seeking legal recognition and sudden interest
in POW/MIA cases, leaves Post to wrestle with interesting
questions of veracity and motive. Certainly, for the level of
surveillance they claim to be under, these individuals seem very
comfortable with coming to the ConGen and traveling widely
throughout some of the more sensitive regions in the South. The
Mennonites have asked the USG to go to bat for them on all of
these issues and promised to provide evidence. For now, Post will
attempt to verify as much of the information as possible and raise
appropriate points with the relevant local authorities.


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