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Cablegate: Still Reunifying After All These Years:

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 000105

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON SOCI VM
SUBJECT: STILL REUNIFYING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS:
THE NEW HO CHI MINH HIGHWAY

REF: A. HANOI 064 B. HANOI 051 C. HANOI 020

- D. 01 HANOI 3086

1. (U) Summary. Construction of a new major highway
system designed further to link northern and southern
Vietnam and to increase access to mountainous areas is
underway. The portion through central Vietnam is largely
completed -- with some major exceptions -- and provincial
and local officials are optimistic about its impact on
economic and social development in these poor areas.
Environmental concerns -- notably landslides, flooding, and
forest degradation -- are likely to remain problems. New
inflows of migrants may also heighten ethnic tensions over
land tenure. Increased narcotics smuggling from Laos and
Cambodia may also prove to be a growing issue. Despite
problems, the new highway should improve domestic
transportation links, increase access to electricity and
social services, and contribute to the GVN's goals of
national unity and solidarity. End summary.

2. (U) Little in Vietnam's geography -- with its thin,
lengthy shape often intersected by rugged mountainous areas
-- or its colonial history -- during which the French
divvied up Vietnam into Amman, Tonkin, and Cochinchina -- or
its mid-20th century civil war provided much of a basis for
genuine national unification or reunification. Its often-
disastrous economic and social policies in the first decade
after 1975 were bitterly divisive and led to major refugee
outflows. Only since the introduction of "doi moi" in 1986,
the military pull-out from Cambodia in the late 1980s, and
the quest for international donor assistance and foreign
investment beginning in the early 1990s has the GVN pursued
a more genuinely successful push for fuller national
integration and the building of a new national identity.

3. (U) Ref D described the limitations of National Route
No. 1, the sole major vehicular artery linking the various
regions of Vietnam, often in literal parallel with the sole
north-side rail link. In an effort to expand regional
links, reduce transport reliance on Route 1, and open up new
areas for cultivation and population, the GVN has initiated
an ambitious program to turn the wartime "Ho Chi Minh Trail"
into a modern highway. By 2010, the new road is expected to
run from Cao Bang province (along the China border) to Ca
Mau, at Vietnam's southern tip. Construction crews are
still putting the final touches on the central stage between
Nghe An and Kontum provinces. Pol/C and ConGenoff recently
traveled along this stretch and met with provincial and
local officials and residents (refs a-c report on
substantive discussions).

The provincial views
--------------------

4. (U) According to Ha Tinh provincial officials, the new
highway should be a spur to economic development of the
western highland areas of the province, despite some
concerns already about environmental degradation. New
access to markets and new contact with other provinces are
also expected to help decrease the rate of poverty in these
formerly inaccessible areas, they noted. Quang Tri
officials separately admitted new environmental problems --
notably landslides, building in forested areas -- but
claimed actively to be undertaking measures to mitigate
these "negative influences." They, too, cited new market
access by highlanders as having a big economic and social
boost for local living standards. In addition, the process
of building the highway has made it easier to provide access
to electricity and communications, with many highland
families newly able to watch television and follow national
broadcasting.

5. (U) Dong Giang district officials in Quang Nam province
pointed to drastically shortened travel times within the
province and between Quang Nam and other provinces as a real
boon to local life and to improvements of rural incomes.
They said that they were now "wholeheartedly" trying to take
advantage of these transport links to promote economic and
social development.
In Kontum, where the new Ho Chi Minh Highway comes to a
rather abrupt end in the northwestern district of Ngoc Hoi
(it then rejoins an existing local road), officials called
the continuation of this project between 2004 and 2010 as
the "next step" in provincial development, for which major
amounts of assistance from the central government will be
necessary. They claimed not to know the specific timetable
for onward construction, however. Officials in neighboring
Gia Lai province described the next phase of the Ho Chi Minh
Highway as due to start in 2006, with an upgrade of the
existing two lane road rather than a new highway per se, and
predicted that by 2010, the completed Ho Chi Minh Highway
would have a "big impact" on economic development in this
poor province. They said that, ultimately, it should be
possible to travel by car from Cao Bang to Ca Mau in only
three days.

New "Youth Villages"
--------------------

6. (U) As part of the opening of mountainous areas, the
GVN has already established four "Youth Villages" in Nghe An
(Song Ro), Ha Tinh (Phuc Trach), Quang Binh (An Ma), and
Quang Nam (A So) provinces. These amount to rural
homesteading, with participants each receiving a plot of
land usually ranging from 3-5 hectares, some assistance in
the construction of modest housing, access to new health and
school facilities, and agricultural extension advice.
Emboffs visited the sites in Quang Binh and Quang Nam, both
of which got underway in 2001.

7. (U) The An Ma project now has about 120 households --
all ethnic Kinh -- who primarily are engaged in the
cultivation of black pepper (increasingly, one of Vietnam's
major agricultural exports). Officials claimed that all
were originally residents of the district and did not come
from other provinces, and that "there was nothing here"
before the project began -- no residents, no cultivation, no
roads. They emphasized that participation was "100 pct
voluntary," and that membership in the Youth Federation was
not a requirement, although the Federation provided some
financial assistance. They also claimed that most
participants were graduates of senior high school (note:
which would be a surprise in this poor, remote district.
end note).

8. (U) The A So project only has 40 households so far, but
aims at 150 families by 2005. Its population is mixed 50/50
between ethnic Kinh and the predominant local minority, Ka
Tu. Project officers also stressed that all residents were
"volunteers" and were almost all from the district
originally. (Several of the Kinh residents admitted that,
while they grew up in this district, their home provinces
were in the North, but their parents had come to Quang Nam
to work after 1975.) Party or Youth Federation was not/not
a prerequisite, officials insisted. They admitted that
there had been "some" ethnic minority families living on
this site previously, but said that those families had
"donated" their land and moved elsewhere. One ethnic Ka Tu
young father described his family's home closer to the Lao
border, about a three hour walk from A So. Like in An Ma,
black pepper is or will be the major crop, and project
officials will provide marketing assistance, relying in part
on the new access made possible by the adjacent Ho Chi Minh
Highway.


Comment: Troubles ahead but good news, too
------------------------------------------

9. (U) While the portion of the Ho Chi Minh Highway through
central Vietnam is essentially finished, emboffs ran into
several chokepoints, especially in Quang Tri, Thua Thien
Hue, and Quang Nam. In some places, the paved highway was
not yet in place, although newspaper reports had claimed
that the road was ready in this zone. Huge swatches of
muddy clay -- in some cases, several feet deep --
occasionally blocked the route. In other locations,
landslides have covered already-completed sections, with
road crews desperately trying to keep up by plowing their
way through for the still only-occasional traffic. In other
places, rockslides covered half the road, which remained
nonetheless passable. Given the location and as-of-yet lack
of retaining walls, vegetation cover, or other protective
measures, such landslides and rockslides are likely to
remain impediments to safe and predictable travel along this
route for the foreseeable future.

10. (U) The opening up of new areas for cultivation, in
addition to deforestation, is likely also to rekindle local
sensitivities about "outsiders" moving into originally
ethnic enclaves -- unless local and provincial authorities
are vigilant (and honest) about only granting land use
rights to genuinely local residents. More probably,
however, sometimes semi-nomadic ethnic groups may again feel
squeezed off lands they had periodically used until now,
potentially adding to ethnic tensions.

11. (U) Once the highway begins to carry more traffic,
there is the probability that it will increasingly be a
route for traffickers en route to Ho Chi Minh City carrying
narcotics from Laos and/or Cambodia (and, eventually, from
China as well). Other types of smuggling -- already common
in these under-patrolled areas -- will also likely increase.
The need for vigilance along this road will further stretch
public security and customs resources.

12. (U) But the bottom line is that Vietnam does indeed
need another north-south link to complement the busy and
often dangerous Route One along the coast. The existence of
an alternative road will be a boost for domestic trade and
transport, and should indeed promote higher living standards
in these areas. The impact of the new highway on greater
internal mobility, more access to electricity and
communications as well as social services, and heightened
trade opportunities will all advance the GVN's overarching
interest in promoting greater national unity and solidarity
-- as well as provide yet another tribute to "Uncle Ho,"
whose 100th birthday Vietnam will celebrate in 2005.
BURGHARDT

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