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Cablegate: A/S Dewey Visit to Vietnam's Central Highlands:

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 000842

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 HUMANR ETMIN RELFREE
SUBJECT: A/S DEWEY VISIT TO VIETNAM'S CENTRAL HIGHLANDS:
GIA LAI PROVINCE

REFS: A) 02 HCMC 0249 B) HCMC 0450

1. (SBU) Summary: PRM Assistant Secretary Dewey visited
Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands on August 16-17.
His meeting with Provincial People's Committee Chairman Ha
was cordial, with a frank exchange of ideas on treatment of
ethnic minorities and freedom of worship. Ha said that at
least five more Protestant churches would receive approval
to operate before the end of the year. Mr. Dewey also
attended a "registered" Protestant church service in Pleiku
on Sunday morning, which provided a dramatic example of the
strength of legally authorized Protestant worship in the
province. Discussions with the pastor, however, revealed
that much of the Protestant community in Gia Lai is still
unrecognized and underground.

2. (SBU) Driving through Gia Lai province, A/S Dewey made
unscheduled stops at two ethnic minority villages, which
demonstrated the unevenness in economic development and
religious freedom in the province. Clearly, the GVN is
making a better effort to improve local infrastructure and
the lives of local ethnic group inhabitants. It also seemed
apparent that the practice of Christianity, both Catholicism
and legally recognized Protestantism, is occurring, often
relatively unhindered. At the same time, there were
troubling signs that those who worship at unregistered
Protestant churches are continuing to face harassment and
that quite a few Protestants believe they experience
discrimination in accessing social services and education.
End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----
A CONFIDENT CHAIRMAN: MORE CHURCHES TO BE APPROVED
--------------------------------------------- -----

3. (U) Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugee
and Migration Affairs Gene Dewey visited Gai Lai province in
the Central Highlands on August 16-17. The DCM, Acting CG
HCMC, RRS Chief HCMC, and EAP/BCLTV officer Charles Jess
accompanied him on the trip. He began with a meeting with
Provincial People's Committee Chairman Nguyen Vi Ha. In his
hour-long discussion with Mr. Dewey, he came across as
cordial, outgoing, and candid (although in previous
encounters with the Ambassador and Consul General, he
exhibited varying degrees of hostility and openness). Mr.
Dewey focused the exchange on ethnic minority returnees from
Cambodia and freedom of worship in the province.

4. (U) Mr. Ha made many of the now-familiar points
concerning preferential government policies for ethnic
minorities (reported in previous HCMC and Hanoi cables). As
examples, he named provision of basic household supplies,
access to low-cost health and education facilities. Ha
admitted that some ethnic minority people had fled to
Cambodia because they felt they experienced religious
repression or because of poor conditions in their villages.
He observed that decades of war in Vietnam had made it
difficult for the GVN to care for its people as well as
other governments cared for their citizens. He stressed,
however, his "firm belief" that "overseas outside forces"
had enticed most of them, promising money and a better life
in another country. Ha asserted that the "activities of
such anti-government and anti-revolution groups caused
confusion" among the villagers. Indeed, according to Ha,
many individuals who had been resettled overseas now sent
messages back home saying they were not making lots of money
and could better understand the difficulties of living
overseas. Ha said that these outside forces were primarily
organized under the banned Dega movement, the activities of
which were considered a threat to Vietnam.

5. (U) In reply, A/S Dewey stressed that the USG does not
support the Dega movement and recognizes the territorial
integrity of Vietnam. He noted that the USG sees two
totally different categories of people -- a relatively small
group of Dega political activists who might attempt to
misuse religious belief for political gain, and a much
larger group of genuinely sincere, non-political Protestant
worshipers. He sought Mr. Ha's assurance that GVN
authorities, too, recognized this difference and would treat
the devout worshipers more fairly. Mr. Ha responded that
they recognized the distinction and in fact the province
would register five more Protestant churches in the near
future. A/S Dewey said this was welcome news, which would
hopefully relieve some pressure on ethnic minorities. Mr.
Dewey also expressed the hope that there might also be
opportunities for the USG, NGOs and other aid groups to help
improve conditions in Gia Lai Province. Mr. Ha said that he
would welcome such humanitarian assistance as long as it was
offered unconditionally and did not harm Vietnam's security.
Areas of possible assistance would be medical supplies for
two provincial hospitals and vocational training for ethnic
minority groups.

6. (U) During the dinner that followed, Mr. Ha was self-
assured, well-spoken and personable, although mostly hewing
to standard GVN positions. From his point of view,
Vietnamese have a right to leave their country and seek a
better life if they want to, but they should leave legally.
Mr. Ha claimed that he knew of 60-70 cases where immigrant
visa applicants had been interviewed by the ConGen, sold
their property, quit their jobs, etc. but had still not
received their visas from the USG. In reply, A/S Dewey
provided Chairman Ha with a ConGen list of 32 pending
refugee resettlement cases from Gia Lai province. These
cases cannot proceed to final processing because the
applicants have not received passports and exit permits from
Gia Lai authorities. Mr. Dewey expressed the hope that both
governments could work to eliminate such obstacles and
delays in the immigration visa and refugee resettlement
processes.

------------------------------------
SUNDAY CHURCH SERVICE IN PLEIKU CITY
------------------------------------

7. (SBU) On Sunday morning August 17, A/S Dewey attended a
Protestant church service at Pleiku Roh Church in Pleiku
City, the provincial capital. The pastor, Mr. Siu Y Kim
(protect), had met Mr. Dewey in Ho Chi Minh City the
previous Friday evening. Pastor Kim is one of only five
recognized Protestant ministers in Gia Lai.

8. (SBU) When Mr. Dewey arrived at the house church, there
was no apparent sign of the church or a service in progress,
even though this is one of the few "registered" churches in
the province. But after being led around back and up a
flight of stairs, he discovered a congregation of over 150
worshipers, mostly from the Jarai ethnic minority, filling a
small hall and flowing out the balcony in the back, with a
choir in mid-song. Mr. Dewey and his group stayed for the
remainder of the two-hour service, conducted in Vietnamese
and Jarai. In the hymns and prayers, the congregation
demonstrated a fervor of belief all the more striking for
the relatively difficult conditions under which they gather.
Pastor Kim gave a sermon inveighing against overindulgence
in alcohol and stressing that Protestants want to preserve
Jarai culture, although not to the extent of worshiping
traditional gods in place of the Christian God. (Post Note:
Some officials in Pleiku claim that Protestant ministers are
speaking out against Jarai culture and even advocating
burning down traditional places of worship.)

9. (SBU) In his sermon, Pastor Kim also mentioned he had
received a call that morning from an "unrecognized" house
church 20 kilometers away in Plei Klan village. Police had
raided this church and arrested several individuals. Pastor
Kim asked his congregation to pray for them. The
juxtaposition of Pastor Kim's "registered" service in
progress, with prayers for an "unregistered" house church,
was a reminder of the inconsistent application of freedom of
worship in Gia Lai province.

10. (SBU) Following the service, A/S Dewey and Pastor Kim
(protect) spoke again about conditions for Protestants in
Gia Lai. Mr. Kim claimed there are over 100,000 believers
in the province, but the GVN recognizes only five of 400
house churches - including the one visited. Before 1975,
according to him, there were 34 Protestant churches (formal
church buildings) in Gia Lai; now there are none.
Government publishing companies do not print Bibles in the
Jarai dialect, but Pastor Kim said with support from
overseas Vietnamese, Jarai Protestants have run off at least
10,000 photocopies of pre-1975 Jarai-language versions.
(Post Note: As a follow-up, the ConGen learned that as soon
as the American delegation left, five policemen present
during the service questioned the pastor as to why the
foreigners were there and what they had asked. However, no
threats were made. End note.) In a conversation with the
DCM, one of the other church members said while the
congregation felt relatively safe, secure and un-harassed
while worshipping within the church compound, members
experienced "discrimination" as soon as they left the
compound.

------------------------------------
UNSCHEDULED VILLAGE STOPS IN GIA LAI
------------------------------------

11. (U) After departing the house church, A/S Dewey drove
nine hours from Pleiku to Lam Dong province through parts of
Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces. While passing through rural
southern Gia Lai province en route to Dak Lak, A/S Dewey
made a couple of unscheduled stops at ethnic minority
villages chosen at random in Chu Se district (Gia Lai). The
first stop was at Plei Phung village, Ia Phang commune, Chu
Se district. (Post Note: As the ConGen vehicles turned off
the main highway to enter the village, a man on a motorbike
stopped the delegation. Likely the local security cadre, he
said foreigners were not allowed to visit ethnic minority
villages unless they had permission from the commune
People's Committee. A/S Dewey expressed his disappointment
to our External Relations Office and Gia Lai People's
Committee escorts. After some discussion, the People's
Committee escort called Chairman Ha, who approved this visit
to the village. End Note.)

12. (U) Plei Phung village, about 60 km south of Pleiku
city, is home to about 50 families. On the dirt road
leading to Plei Phung, which is off the national highway, we
saw a school and holes for electricity poles. The villagers
pointed to them as indications of government efforts to
improve their lives. Our group split into two to walk
around the village.

13. (SBU) A/S Dewey spoke with a Jarai man in his mid-
thirties with two children - one in the elementary school
and the other a toddler. The villager said his family made
its living by growing rice as a main crop, in addition to
pepper, cotton and corn. Cotton and corn are his cash
crops, while he keeps the rice to feed the family. He was
unhappy with his current circumstances and asked Mr. Dewey
for assistance. He said that living standards in Plei Phung
village are low. There is no electricity (yet) or running
water. Several families share a well. The villager said if
his children got sick, he would take them to a nearby clinic
or to the district hospital. Doctors/nurses do not make
house calls. He is Catholic, and his family usually goes to
a church at the commune center six kilometers away, as there
is no church in Plei Phung. He had no complaints about
freedom of religious worship.

14. (SBU) Leaving Plei Phung village, A/S Dewey stopped at
Kenh San village, eight km from Plei Phung. This village
belongs to Ia Le commune, Chu Se district. Another
"watcher" on motorbike stopped delegation vehicles at the
village gate, saying there were sick animals in the village
that might affect our health. Still, he allowed us to enter
the village after a ConGen FSN explained that we were
accompanied by provincial People's Committee officials and
that we had just been permitted to visit a neighboring
village.

15. (SBU) Kenh San village appeared to be more bustling and
economically sound. It is active and wealthier than Plei
Phung. There were street venders, small grocery stores and
coffee shops lining the hard dirt main road. Kenh San was
recently electrified, but villagers still use well water.
Villagers said they go to a nearby clinic or hospitals at
the district center or in Pleiku. A/S Dewey stopped at a
large house where children had gathered to watch television.
The homeowner was happy to talk with our group members. A
Jarai man in his sixties, he said that many residents in the
village are Catholics, who attend church at the commune
center every Sunday. Believers go by motorcycles or
together in small trucks. He said he had no problems
practicing his faith. Regarding the local economy, he said
the villagers work in the fields, growing rice, black
pepper, corn, and sweet potatoes. They also raise chicken
and pigs. Village lands are "far away in the forest", so
the village owns an elephant. Villagers take turns keeping
the elephant and using it to transport their harvested
crops. Traders come to the village to buy the villagers'
products. In brief conversations with other residents of
Kenh San, most did not complain about religious freedom
issues. One young man, however, indicated that some of the
Protestants felt they were discriminated against in
obtaining access to certain advanced medical or educational
facilities.

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

16. (SBU) For the most part, provincial and local officials
treated A/S Dewey and his delegation cordially and with less
suspicion than they had exhibited on some Embassy and ConGen
visits to the Central Highlands in recent years. There were
fewer obvious security officials in tow and those who did
accompany the delegation generally did not obstruct its
activities. Officials also showed some flexibility in
handling the delegation's sudden requests to deviate from
the pre-arranged itinerary in order to visit randomly-chosen
villages along the way. Visits by the Ambassador and
frequent visits by ConGen HCMC over the past two years have
broken through some of the barriers to discussions on human
rights and religious freedom, but we should not kid
ourselves. There will be no overnight philosophical
epiphany here. Change in the Central Highlands - so removed
from easy transportation and communication links - will be
gradual and closely tied to economic development and
education.

17. (SBU) As was the case with previous USG visitors, the
delegation witnessed a mixed picture on religious freedoms
and treatment of ethnic minorities. Clearly, the GVN is
making a concerted effort to improve local infrastructure
and the lives of local ethnic group inhabitants. It was
also apparent that the practice of Christianity, both
Catholicism and "legal" Protestantism, occurs relatively
freely. There are plans to approve more registered
churches. At the same time, there were troubling signs that
those who worship at unregistered Protestant churches do
face harassment and that a number of Protestants believe
they are discriminated against when it comes to accessing
social services and education.

18. (SBU) Although there were fewer GVN "minders" than on
previous trips, they were present and tried to monitor
conversations that the delegation had with villagers.
Despite these minders, some brave and outspoken villagers
discussed discrimination and harassment by local officials
with us.

19. (U) People's Committee Chairman Ha has told previous
visitors that he would welcome "unconditional" U.S.
assistance in his province, but subsequent Mission attempts
to follow up were unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Mission will
again explore the possibility of undertaking humanitarian or
development projects.

20. (U) A/S Dewey did not have a chance to review this
cable before his departure.

YAMAUCHI

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