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Cablegate: A/S Dewey in Vietnam's Central Highlands: Kon Tum

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HO CHI MINH CITY 000833

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR A/S DEWEY; EAP/BCLTV; DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PGOV PREL PINS SOCI KIRF VM CB RELFREE HUMANR ETMIN
SUBJECT: A/S DEWEY IN VIETNAM'S CENTRAL HIGHLANDS: KON TUM
PROVINCE

REFS: A) HCMC 0450 B) 02 HCMC 0336

1. (U) Summary: In a visit to Kon Tum Province, PRM
Assistant Secretary Dewey met with Provincial People's
Committee Chairwoman Y Veng and with the province's
Committee on Ethnic Minority and Religious Affairs. He also
visited a village in Ia Sia commune where 15 UNHCR-
repatriated ethnic minorities returned in 2002. Ia Sia
commune appears little changed from previous visits --
impoverished and the UNHCR-repatriated refugees still
somewhat discontented and not completely integrated back
into daily life. Life in the village is hard for ethnic
minority and Kinh alike. Generally well-meaning GVN
programs are under-funded, fall behind on implementation,
and sometimes increase frustration. The personal stories of
discrimination told A/S Dewey by several returnees seem to
be genuine, yet it is difficult to judge what part of their
plight stems from systemic targeted mistreatment and what
part is simply due to impoverished conditions in Ia Sia/Kon
Tum as a whole. The treatment of ethnic minorities -- and
specifically their ability to worship freely -- depends on
the personalities and attitudes of the local authorities,
down to the very lowest level. End Summary.

----------------------
"MAY I CONTINUE NOW?"
----------------------

2. (U) Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugee
and Migration Affairs Gene Dewey traveled to Kon Tum
Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands on August 16. DCM,
Acting CG HCMC, RRS Chief, and EAP/BCLTV officer Jess
accompanied him. The delegation met with the People's
Committee chairwoman Y Veng, her first meeting with U.S.
officials in at least 18 months. (On six previous visits
she had been in Hanoi as a National Assembly member or
traveling outside Kon Tum.) The scowling Madame Veng read
carefully from ten pages of prepared remarks and looked
vexed every time A/S Dewey interrupted to raise the
treatment of ethnic minorities and freedom of religion or
ask other questions. After answering each question, she
would look at A/S Dewey and ask, "May I continue now?"

3. (U) Ms. Y Veng described GVN programs geared toward
improving living conditions for ethnic minority groups in
Kon Tum. She emphasized access to free or low cost health
care and educational opportunities, including special ethnic
minority boarding schools and subsidized tuition at regular
schools. She noted that there were 137,266 religious
believers in Kon Tum of which 87,847 where from ethnic
minorities. The total believers included 100,021 Catholics
(77,000 minority members), 26,561 Buddhists, and 10,337
Protestants (10,228 minority). She also said that there
were 92 religious facilities, 13 churches, 1 big Catholic
church (sic), 47 worship places, 50 pagodas, and 3
monasteries. She invited Mission staff to attend the
installation of a new bishop, which would occur in late
August. Chairwoman Y Veng observed that the "legal"
religious associations were making an important contribution
to the province and its people.

4. (U) A/S Dewey asked about reports that some Protestant
religious groups had been denied access to certain health
and education benefits. The Chairwoman replied a little
defensively that Kon Tum province did not discriminate
against Christians, but that limited resources precluded
guaranteeing every potential student a place in the boarding
schools. When A/S Dewey asked about visiting a school, Ms.
Y Veng said Dakglei District had an ethnic minority boarding
school where there were some Christians attending. A/S
Dewey noted a firsthand visit would be important in further
understanding conditions Kon Tum, and said that although his
schedule was very tight this time, ConGenoffs would visit
the school in the future.

5. (U) A/S Dewey noted that American NGOs and USAID were
interested in providing assistance to the Central Highlands,
possibly in the areas of child health and reproductive
health. The Chairwoman said "these services are already
available," but she would be happy to work with these
organizations and greatly appreciated their offers.
However, the central government makes all decisions on
assistance programs, not provincial authorities. She said
she would get back to the Mission concerning the offer.

6. (U) According to Chairwoman Y Veng, the GVN has a
consistent policy of freedom of religion, and in general,
any group or association recognized by the government can
gather people together. However, certain groups, such as
the Dega movement, misuse religious groups for their own
political purposes. She asserted that the Dega movement had
enticed people to cross the border into Cambodia. A/S Dewey
clarified that the USG does not support the Dega movement or
any movement seeking autonomy. The USG, however, does
support religious freedoms, free speech, human rights, and
economic development. He urged GVN authorities to
distinguish between the small minority abusing religious
belief for political purposes and the much larger group of
genuine worshipers.

--------------------------------------------- -------
RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS CHIEF: PROTESTANTS BUT NO CHURCHES
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (U) Following the meeting with the provincial People's
Committee, A/S Dewey met with the Committee on Ethnic
Minority and Religious Affairs' chairman, Mr. Ro Mo So Ra.
Several of the same points concerning freedom of worship for
non-political believers were discussed. Mr. Ro said there
are no recognized Protestant churches in Kon Tum province at
this time (although Chairwoman Y Veng had previously stated
there were approximately 10,000 Protestants in the
province). Mr. Ro subsequently indicated that indeed there
were Protestants in Kon Tum, and that they indeed were
worshipping in their homes or in non-recognized churches.
He said local authorities generally turned a blind eye to
their worship services as long as they stuck to religion and
did not engage in illegal political activities. As for the
process of registering new churches, Mr. Ro emphasized that
his committee's role is purely advisory. Decision-making
authority to register churches lies with the People's
Committee. A/S Dewey encouraged Mr. Ro to work for the
recognition of legitimate congregations, who sincerely want
to simply worship together, and to not treat such groups as
a security or political threat.

------------------------------
BOTTOM'S UP - Y VENG'S REVENGE
------------------------------

8. (U) Chairwoman Y Veng had graciously invited A/S Dewey
and delegation for lunch. In contrast to her rather cool
reception during the formal meeting in her office earlier
that day, Y Veng was considerably more relaxed, cordial and
talkative. She also taught several of those on the American
delegation a thing or two about a tool of diplomacy
frequently employed here: proposing a toast before virtually
every bite of food. She told A/S Dewey that her soldier
husband laughed when she told him that drinking was part of
her job.

-------------------------
VISIT TO RAT/RAC VILLAGE
-------------------------

9. (SBU) Following the lunch, A/S Dewey visited Rat (Rac)
village, Ia Sia commune in Sa Thay district, near the
Cambodian border. The UNHCR has repatriated 15 refugees to
this village since February 2002. In a two-hour visit, A/S
Dewey, the DCM and Acting Consul General fanned out to talk
with various returnees. The obvious presence of
plainclothes police mixed in with the villagers may have
inhibited their willingness to talk freely. Still, several
of them spoke out candidly about their lives and in some
cases the problems they faced. The villagers had just
finished celebrating a local ethnic festival and consumed
considerable alcohol in the process; this may have loosened
tongues a bit. (Post Note: Compared to 18 months ago, when
the security forces videotaped each village encounter, the
police presence was relatively lighter.)

10. (SBU) Sui Toi (20 years old) and Ro Cham Khuyen (23
years old), both unmarried, are two Jarai ethnic minority
men. They said they had returned to Vietnam on February 19,
2002. UNHCR had advised them that the Vietnamese Government
would provide land and a job to anyone who returned.
However, when they arrived at the Gia Lai province border
last year, local policemen "beat (them) ruthlessly."
Currently, they are living with their sisters' families. Ro
Cham Khuyen whispered that he dared not "tell everything" to
the visitors or he would have a "big problem" with local
policemen when the delegation left. He said that there are
no schools for the children in Ia Sia village, there is no
health clinic in or near the village, and Ia Sia had not yet
been electrified. (Post Note: While there is sometimes
confusion between using the terms "village" and "commune" in
the provinces, there definitely is an elementary school in
Ia Sia commune, and its main road is electrified, though it
is likely houses further back in the hills are not. It is
common practice for the poorer provinces to set up health
clinics to serve several villages and/or communes from a
central location. Post does not wish to make light of Ro
Cham Khuyen's claims, but they are inaccurate. We also note
that in previous discussions with residents of other Central
Highlands villages, the concept of "near" has elicited
responses ranging from approximately 60 feet to one mile.
End note.)

11. (SBU) Sui Toi indicated he was a Protestant, but said
after his return to Vietnam he could no longer attend
church, because any time he wanted to leave his village he
had to obtain local police approval. Some other villagers
cautiously approached ConGenoff to hand over samples of
police "invitations" to interviews. One was an "invitation"
from the district police chief (an ethnic Vietnamese Kinh)
to come to the Sa Thay district police station "to meet Mr.
Dung of the security section." Another was from the Ia Sia
police chief (also an ethnic Vietnamese Kinh) asking the
recipient to come to discuss some "necessary matters." One
resident handed over a note showing he had been "approved"
by a village policeman to visit his foster mother's home in
another village to borrow money to buy a bicycle.

12. (SBU) A ConGen FSN spoke briefly with a third returnee.
This 24-year old ethnic minority man said he had returned in
March 2002, but is jobless and has long since spent the
VND500,000 (USD$33 - average per capita annual income in Kon
Tum is about USD$205) that the UNHCR gave him for
resettlement. He claimed local policemen had beaten him
when he returned to Vietnam. He said he would be beaten
again after the American delegation left, but "the truth was
always the truth and that if the authorities killed him he
was happy to die in his homeland."

13. (SBU) A Rung Ho Lung, a 41-year old Jarai man, told A/S
Dewey that one of the reasons he left for Cambodia was
because his family was not allowed to worship in his village
home. ConGen Pol/Econ assistant then spoke with the
chairman of the Ia Sia Commune People's Committee and the
tribal chief of Rat/Rac Village. The chairman said local
authorities did not forbid Christian worship, but it was
possible that the tribe itself did not approve of such
practices. The tribal chief responded that Christianity was
not part of his tribe's cultural heritage. A/S Dewey asked
both the chairman and the tribal chief to allow believers to
practice their faith, since they gather peacefully and not
for any political purpose. The chairman did not promise,
but said it was really a tribal decision. The tribal chief
was reluctant to make a commitment.

--------
COMMENT
--------

14. (SBU) As with previous visits to Ia Sia, the situation
appears mixed. While accurate information may exist in
snapshots of the moment, consistently verifiable information
is a completely different story. Kon Tum province is very
poor. Many of its problems - depressed agricultural
economy, unemployment, lack of arable land - affect
everybody, including the Vietnamese Kinh. Government
programs, while well-meaning on paper, are under-funded in
implementation, fall behind on their timetables, and
increase frustration.

15. (SBU) In addition, the frequent attention paid to Rat
village by American and other foreign visitors may have
resulted in heightened local government sensitivities and
tension in this village. The personal stories told by the
four returnees seem to be genuine, yet it is difficult to
judge what part of their plight stems from systemic targeted
mistreatment and what part is simply due to impoverished
conditions in Ia Sia/Kon Tum as a whole. On this visit, as
with others, it is clear that the treatment of ethnic
minorities -- and specifically their ability to worship
freely -- depends on the personalities and attitudes of the
local authorities, down to the very lowest level. End
comment.

16. (U) A/S Dewey did not see this cable before departure.

YAMAUCHI

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