Cablegate: Central Highlands: Blame Unhcr

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: STATE 82712

1. (SBU) Summary. The GVN officially blames UNHCR for
having caused the April 10-11 demonstrations in the Central
Highlands by "organizing" illegal crossings of Montagnards
and granting them asylum. Ambassador sharply criticized
this "farfetched" notion, stressing the local conditions in
the Central Highlands that had caused unhappiness, and
stressing the legal mandate of UNHCR, which the RCG itself
had an obligation to support and respect. The MFA promised
to "try" to facilitate a trip to the Central Highlands by
missionoffs within the next week. It is striking that the
GVN has clearly decided not to attempt to blame the U.S.,
or even specifically groups in the U.S., for the recent
troubles. End Summary.

Back to normal

2. (U) In a meeting on April 14 with Assistant Foreign
Minister and Americas Department Director General Nguyen
Duc Hung, Ambassador delivered reftel talking points on the
Central Highlands, highlighting "intense" U.S. and
international interest and concern. AFM Hung admitted
"disturbances" on April 10 and 11 in the three provinces of
Dak Lak, Dak Rong, and Gia Lai, in which groups of
Montagnards had been "incited" to oppose local authorities
and engage in acts of violence, leading to clashes with
public security officials. He said he did not have
information on injuries, deaths, or arrests, but promised
to "try" to obtain such information. He further claimed
attacks on and destruction of public offices in "a number
of districts." He claimed that local authorities
"persuaded" demonstrators to return home and that the
situation had now "returned to normal" and that "order has
been restored."

UNHCR's fault

3. (SBU) AFM Hung attributed the causes of the
demonstrations to "interference," notably due to the
attempts of the UNHCR representative in Cambodia to
organize "illegal border crossings" without the knowledge
of the RCG. He noted that the RCG itself viewed such
actions as a violation of its sovereignty and as "illegal
people smuggling," and therefore had ordered the closure of
the UNHCR office in Rattanakiri. In anticipation of
imminent flight out of Vietnam, Hung further claimed, many
Montagnard families had recently sold their houses and
land, and there were even rumors that U.S. airplanes would
even come to the Central Highland to pick up people wishing
to leave. AFM Hung reaffirmed GVN policy of "national
unity" and promotion of democracy, human rights, and
religious freedom.

4. (SBU) Ambassador called the allegations against UNHCR
as an "insult" to an organization that was fulfilling its
legal mandate, which the RCG had an obligation to assist as
a signatory to the Refugee Convention. He noted that in
fact only a small number of Montagnards had been able to
cross the border and made it with difficulty to Phnom Penh
to request asylum. He called it "farfetched" that the
UNHCR office had the slightest role in inciting these
demonstrations. He complained that there have been
repeated reports over the past year of efforts by Cambodian
officials to catch Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia
and returning them to Vietnam, often in cooperation with
Vietnamese security offices and often in return for bounty
payments, he continued. He warned the GVN against
encouraging the RCG to avoid its international
responsibilities and obligations.

5. (SBU) AFM Hung claimed that, while Vietnamese laws
were not "perfect," the GVN would still enforce its laws
about crossing without permission; freedom of movement was
only valid for internal travel. Ambassador stressed that
such crossings were a legal matter for Cambodia, not

Long-time problem; access needed

6. (U) Ambassador emphasized that the situation in the
Central Highlands would remain difficult for a long time,
due to unhappiness over land tenure, income disparities,
discrimination, and interference with religious practice,
which made many Montagnards wish to seek asylum. He noted
that the USG was willing to cooperate to ensure orderly
programs for those who did wish to leave, and that escape
across the border remained an "escape value" for those who
could not leave otherwise, an option the GVN should allow.

7. (U) Ambassador urged renewed access to the Central
Highlands. AFM Hung said that since the situation was
"normal," people were free to go there again. Ambassador
said that another Embassy/ConGen team would try to go again
within a week in that case; such a reporting trip would
help greatly better to understand the situation and to re-
institute openness and reciprocity. He noted that, when
there was no access, people tend to believe the worst. AFM
Hung promised to "try" to ensure access for the Mission
team by "creating conditions" for them to go.

8. (U) Ambassador reiterated USG respect for Vietnam's
sovereignty, and AFM Hung acknowledged that the USG did not
support the Dega movement, and that its position on
Vietnam's sovereignty was "clear." He added that the GVN
recognized USG "restraint" and "understanding."

9. (SBU) Comment: Unlike 2001, the GVN has clearly
decided against laying the blame at the door of the U.S.,
and in this discussion at least did not even belabor the
role of US-based groups. The attack on UNHCR is misguided
and troubling, however, but demonstrates once again the
perceived GVN need to have an outside enemy to blame for
internal problems.

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