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Cablegate: Mfa in Hcmc Assures Congen Situation in 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 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000406

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL, PRM, CA/OCS, S/ES-O

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL SCUL SOCI KIRF VM ETMIN HUMANR
SUBJECT: MFA IN HCMC ASSURES CONGEN SITUATION IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS
NOW STABLE

REF: A) HCMC 0391 B) HANOI 1007 C) HCMC 0401

1. (SBU) Summary: Mr. Le Hung Quoc, Senior Deputy Director of the
Ho Chi Minh City External Relations Office (ERO), downplayed
reports of widespread protests and high casualty numbers in the
Central Highlands (refs A and B) during a meeting with Acting
Consul General on April 13, assuring her that the situation was
now "stable." A/CG utilized the meeting to underscore U.S.
interest in the peaceful resolution of the current ethnic unrest
in Dak Lak and Gia Lai provinces, and to stress the importance of
obtaining both access and accurate information. ConGen and
Embassy Poloffs were forced to postpone a planned trip to the
Central Highlands on April 10, after violence reportedly broke out
during demonstrations by ethnic minority persons ("Montagnards")
in the two provinces. The ConGen submitted a diplomatic note to
ERO (the southern branch office of the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs) on April 12 to formalize verbal requests for ERO to
facilitate a trip to the Central Highlands at the earliest
opportunity. Mr. Quoc told A/CG he hoped ConGenoffs would be able
to travel to the region soon. End summary.

2. (SBU) Mr. Quoc told A/CG that the situation in the Central
Highlands was now stable, and that foreign tourists were free to
"resume normal activities." He said he had asked the provincial
administrations in Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum to once again
prepare to receive a ConGen delegation as soon as possible. He
thought it likely that ConGenoffs would be able to travel there
soon. He also assured A/CG that the GVN was not trying to hide
anything from the international community or the USG. The issue
for the GVN was to be sure that it was providing accurate
information. He rejected reports of demonstrations involving
150,000 Montagnards as "completely unrealistic," but commented
that many people had been out on the streets to attend Easter
services. As far as he was aware, there had been no deaths or
serious injuries; however, he asked for more time to sort out the
details, given the difficulties in communicating with remote
communes and districts over a wide area. He insisted he was
unable to provide any specific numbers for detentions, deaths, or
injuries, saying only that some demonstrators had attacked police
and been arrested. He cautioned A/CG to ignore rampant
misinformation, citing as examples rumors he had heard (and
dismissed) that foreign aircraft would be airlifting Montagnards
from the Central Highlands to a sanctuary overseas, or that
foreign delegations would soon arrive in the region to spirit the
protestors away. In this context, he offered to try to provide
information on specific claims regarding deaths or detentions
purportedly resulting from the protests. (Note: While he seemed
sincere, ERO has not always been successful in verifying
information regarding sensitive cases in the past. End Note.)

3. (SBU) Mr. Quoc blamed "extremist elements" for using Easter as
a pretext to "create social unrest." He also cited reports that
the demonstrations may have been "instigated from outside" of
Vietnam, tying in recent allegations by Cambodian officials that
UNHCR was "luring" Montagnards across the border from Vietnam.
Under the circumstances, he said, the government had an obligation
to stop the demonstrations and preserve public order and
stability. He blamed general conditions of poverty for leaving
the ethnic minorities susceptible to promises of a better life
overseas, and said the first obligation of the GVN with regard to
human rights was to improve access to education, health care, and
economic opportunity.

4. (SBU) Acting Consul General noted her disappointment that the
GVN had postponed the joint ConGen/Embassy reporting trip to the
Central Highlands planned for April 10-14 (ref C). Expressing
concern over unconfirmed reports of large-scale protests that had
allegedly turned violent over the weekend, A/CG emphasized the
importance of immediate and reliable information to avoid the
spread of unsubstantiated rumors. She also urged the GVN to grant
immediate access to the region; to permit ConGenoffs to speak
freely with officials and ordinary residents in the affected
areas; and to assess the extent of the reported ethnic minority
unrest firsthand. Speaking more generally, A/CG noted the role
that freedom of speech and assembly serve in democratic societies
as outlets for disenfranchised elements of the population.
Reiterating the USG's respect for the national sovereignty of
Vietnam, she urged the GVN to limit their investigation and not
turn this into a broader inquisition.

5. (SBU) Comment: ERO does not always have the latest information
about the Central Highlands and ConGen is still trying to obtain
better information about the protests. Mr. Quoc's description of
events, while quite general, seemed to be more in line with
impressions provided by ConGen sources (reftels) than with the
initial stream of reports suggesting that the protests were much
more widespread and violent. Many press reports today also seemed
to have scaled back significantly on the numbers. ERO has worked
very hard to assist the ConGen in gaining access to the Central
Highlands in the past, and Mr. Quoc didn't seem to harbor any
grudges over the attempt by ConGen and Embassy Poloffs to continue
with their previously scheduled trip last Saturday. Even if we do
get access, however, we would still expect it to be very difficult
to sort things out on the ground.
WHITE

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