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Cablegate: Vietnam: Us Military Donation Welcomed in Mekong Delta

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000759

SIPDIS

SECDEF for USDP/ISA/AP
JCS for J15

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PINS PREL ECON VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAM: US MILITARY DONATION WELCOMED IN MEKONG DELTA

1. Summary. In a goodwill event that generated enthusiastic
local and national press coverage, Acting Consul General, Defense
Attache Col. Stephen Ball, U.S. Army Pacific John Almarez, and
Congen Econoff, participated in a handover ceremony at Can Tho
General Hospital to commemorate the donation of surplus US Army
medical equipment valued at over USD300,000. The hospital
director noted in his remarks that the heart defibrillator donated
had already saved 15 lives. Dramatic interest in Col. Ball's
presence as well as the willingness to work closely with and
recognize the role of the U.S. military are positive signs that
the US - Vietnam defense relationship is moving forward. After
Department of Health officials expressed a further need for help
for the not yet opened Can Tho Delta Regional Hospital, DOD is now
in the process of identifying hospital beds from surplus stock
that it may be able to donate. End summary

Ceremony Generates Significant Press
-------------------------------------
2. The handover ceremony was held at the Can Tho General
Hospital, a six hundred bed public hospital that serves Can Tho
and surrounding provinces. About 100 people - doctors, nurses,
provincial officials, and a large number of reporters - crowded
into the meeting room which, in addition to a large bust of Ho Chi
Minh, had on display some of the items that had been donated in
the shipment. The event generated significant press interest,
airing on local and national TV newscasts and instigating several
print articles.

3. Taking pride of place at the front of the room was a
centrifuge along with other electronic equipment. During the
ceremony, local officials, including Can Tho Hospital Director Dr.
Tran Sophia, thanked the U.S. Consulate General and the U.S. Army
for the gift and noted that much of the equipment was already in
"efficient use." Most dramatically, Dr. Sophia noted that the
defibrillator included in the donation had already "saved the
lives of 15 patients." This comment was welcomed with thunderous
applause.

4. The donation, which included everything from bandages and
surgical tables to high tech electronic equipment, is valued at
well over three hundred thousand US dollars. It came from the
Department of Defense Humanitarian Assistance Program - Excess
Property from two sites in Japan. The donated surplus medical
supplies arrived in Vietnam in two shipments - one in October last
year and another this January. John Almarez, International
Logistics Plans Officer with U.S. Army Pacific, who handled much
of the logistical issues for the U.S. military, traveled from
Hawaii to attend the ceremony.

5. In her remarks the acting CG noted that this gift was part of
an overall assistance effort undertaken by the USG in Vietnam, and
that a number of projects have had a direct impact on Can Tho and
the rest of the Mekong Delta. As Vietnam's largest bilateral
donor in the area of HIV/AIDS programs, for example, the USG funds
a program in Can Tho run by Family Health International. The U.S.
also funds cultural and university programs at Can Tho University
and provides disaster assistance to families hit by flooding in
the Delta. The Mekong Delta also benefits from programs at the
national level focused on BTA implementation, such as the STAR
project.

Eyes and Cameras Turn to the Man in Uniform
-------------------------------------------
6. In his remarks, Col. Ball noted that while economic activities
attracted the most attention in the growing and deepening U.S. -
Vietnam relationship, our defense relationship was also growing.
He stated that the officer exchanges, conferences, and regional
meetings in which both the U.S. and Vietnamese militaries
participated were important. He called this gift to the Can Tho
General Hospital a small display of the U.S. commitment to
building a positive relationship with Vietnam.

7. The presence of Col. Ball generated a great deal of interest.
He is probably the first US military officer in uniform that many
of these people had seen in some time. When he rose to speak he
was literally showered with flashbulbs as photographers rushed to
capture the moment. At the conclusion of the ceremony reporters
and others eager to meet him and express their thanks again
surrounded Col. Ball.

Additional Donations Possible
-----------------------------
8. The Health Department of Can Tho is currently constructing a
new hospital that should open sometime at the beginning of next
year. The current facility is a group of buildings, some clearly
dating from the French Colonial period, which are showing their
age. Hospital officials made a point to show that much of the
equipment was already being used, and after the ceremony the
delegation was given a quick tour where they could see some of the
equipment in use. The hospital director also pointed out some of
the larger pieces of equipment such as a couple of dental chairs
and related equipment that were still in crates and would be used
in the new hospital facility. Col. Ball and Mr. Almarez were
impressed with the efforts of the hospital staff to make good use
of the equipment. Mr. Almarez is already in the process of trying
to locate surplus hospital beds that could perhaps be donated
under the humanitarian assistance program to the new facility.

Comment - A Reason to Feel Good
-------------------------------
9. Comment: This handover ceremony was truly a "feel good"
event. Department of Health authorities, which had peppered
Congen with phone calls in the days leading up to the event to get
it "just right," were clearly interested in expressing their
appreciation and demonstrating that the equipment was being put to
good use. At a time when irritants in our trading relationship -
such as the catfish anti-dumping case which will have a direct
impact on Can Tho's seafood processing industry - often take
center stage, this event suggests that a reserve of goodwill
exists in the Mekong Delta. In particular, the interest and press
coverage of the military aspect of this event is another positive
sign for the continuing development of the defense relationship.

WHITE

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