Cablegate: Hcmc Land Protest: Police Turn Molehill Into Mountain

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 00949

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. A protest against land expropriation drew
extra attention after police attempted to remove ConGen personnel,
who were observing the protest from the sidelines. The
protesters -- illegal migrants, squatters, and legal land owners -
- whose land had been seized in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11,
had been demonstrating near the municipal People's Committee
offices. The protest remained peaceful, in spite of police
overreaction to the presence of a foreign observer. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On November 4, 2003, Poloff received a tip from another
ConGen officer who happened to be passing by, that protesters
(possibly from the Central Highlands, he thought) were
demonstrating about land issues outside the People's Committee
building. Poloff and FSN arrived on the scene and found 23
protesters on the sidewalk surrounded by 14 Vietnamese police
officers. Some observers said the protest had included 50-60
participants earlier in the morning, but had dwindled to half that
by 10 a.m. The predominantly female protesters chanted loudly and
occasionally stopped Vietnamese passersby (but not foreigners) to
show them their petitions for redress. Poloff and FSN observed
from well behind police lines, listening to what was being said,
and did not attempt to speak with any protesters. After a few
minutes, however, the deputy police unit chief demanded that
Poloff (the only noticeable foreigner) leave the premises. Poloff
asked why he was being ordered off a public street and whether any
laws were being broken. The officer did not respond, repeatedly
stating in English that Poloff must leave. The officer then
firmly grabbed Poloff by the arm and attempted to forcibly remove
him. Poloff was able to pull out his diplomatic ID, at which
point he was immediately released.

3. (SBU) This police attempt to physically remove a foreigner
from the premises drew the attention of several protesters, who
surrounded Poloff and FSN, trying to explain their complaints.
Additional police arrived, and three officers began videotaping.
Another officer tried to intimidate the Pol FSN by shouting
questions and demanding to see identification. Vietnamese media
had also arrived. The protest was at no time directed against
U.S. interests, nor were the two ConGen personnel in any danger
from the protesters. In fact, some of the women promised "to
protect" them.

4. (SBU) While police continued to videotape everything and
closely monitor the situation, three of the protesters said the
reason for the protest was that approximately 96 households in
Ward 15 of District 11 had had their land expropriated and
shanties torn down to make way for a commercial building project.
Some of those affected are illegal migrants and squatters, who
were not compensated for their losses and who could not now
receive legal documentation to work. Others allegedly were not
compensated according to what the Compensation Board had judged to
be fair value. The protesters clained there was corruption and
conspiracy involving the developers, the People's Committee, and
"Sai Gon Giai Phong newspaper" (HCMC's Communist Party daily).

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Although these protesters did not turn out to
be from or related to the Central Highlands, in the past,
activists have taken advantage of upcoming major events to attract
attention to their causes. As the Southeast Asia Games approach
(December 5-13) and the GVN increases its pre-SEA Games "cleanup"
activities (reftel), it is possible other protests may occur.
Post notes, however, that this group was able to demonstrate with
little difficulty for several hours, as have other smaller groups
protesting land issues in HCMC. In this instance, police
overreaction to the presence of a foreigner backfired, attracting
more attention than the protests themselves. If this "foreigner"
had in fact been a tourist, what impression would he have carried
away with him about Vietnam?

© Scoop Media

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