Cablegate: Protestants Criticize Mfi Role in Central Highlands

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: A) HCMC 0401 B) HCMC 0507 C) HANOI 1113

1. (SBU) Summary: Despite continued assertions from Human Rights
Watch, the Transnational Radical Party, Montagnard Foundation,
Inc. (MFI) and various other groups that police and military units
brutally beat, raped, killed and arrested ethnic minority
demonstrators in the Central Highlands during Easter protests,
ConGen HCMC has yet to hear any first-hand reports of excessive
force by the GVN. However, while Protestant leaders expressed
anger over MFI's role in the demonstrations, they also gave
credence to reports of police brutality. As post has previously
reported from extensive interviews with local contacts in HCMC
(ref A), the reality at this point appears to lie somewhat closer
to GVN claims of relatively small demonstrations and limited
casualties (refs B and C). Mission officers plan to travel to the
region April 26-28, but even so it may be difficult to verify the
details for some time. End summary.

2. (SBU) A well-known third-country source shared with ConGenoff
reports he had received last week, which included claims of at
least two dead and injuries in the tens. While the numbers match
those provided by the GVN (reftels), his sources attributed the
two deaths to gunshots fired by government forces. They reported
approximately 15,000 protesters each in Dak Lak and Gia Lai
provinces, but said the demonstrators were peaceful. Many carried
similar banners decrying land confiscations and interference in
ethnic minority affairs. The banners apparently did not specify
whether they were directed at the GVN or ethnic majority Kinh.

3. (SBU) Two other sources, Protestant pastors from the Central
Highlands well known to ConGen and generally considered reliable,
provided him with charts detailing the location of demonstrations.
Their hand-drawn maps showed 13 flashpoints in Dak Lak, and
another 17 in Gia Lai. These include the districts of Cu M'Gar,
Krong Ana, and Krong Pak in Dak Lak; and Dak Doa, Chu Se, and
Ayunpa in Gia Lai. The number of protesters at most of these
locations were said to have ranged between one and several
thousand. A written narrative that accompanied the Dak Lak map
gave no precise casualty figures, but intimated a number of
deaths, injuries, and arrests. The two pastors were allegedly
reluctant to meet with ConGenoffs during their weekend visit to
HCMC, given the increased surveillance they believed was in place.
As a result, ConGenoffs were unable to determine whether or not
these two sources had actually witnessed any of the actions they

4. (SBU) According to ConGen's third-country contact, these two
pastors decried the involvement of Kok Ksor and MFI in organizing
the protests. They accused MFI of intentionally staging the
demonstrations over Easter weekend to attract the greatest
possible international attention, and were said to be "terribly
angry" with MFI for the harm that had befallen so many "innocent"
people in the Central Highlands. They were certain that the
protests had almost nothing to do with religion, estimating that
fewer than ten percent of the protesters were Christian. They
said the demonstrators had been duped by promises of resettlement
in the U.S. Contrary to GVN claims, however, the two pastors were
also said to have reported a harsh response by security forces
armed with spiked clubs, chains, and other weapons. They
contradicted GVN statements that the demonstrations had ended on
April 11, noting that the last of the fighting had not ended until
the following Saturday, April 17. However, they had been able to
hold Easter services without interference and normal Sunday
services the following week.

5. (SBU) Aid project workers living in or near Buon Ma Thuot City
in Dak Lak told a German diplomat the demonstrators there had been
quite violent, but the police had mostly exercised restraint, at
least initially. While it was unclear how much these individuals
had seen for themselves, they were certain that ethnic minority
protesters had actually occupied the provincial People's Committee
in the town for at least one night. They also said the
demonstrators indicated they were waiting to be taken to the U.S.
Their estimates of the size of the demonstrations were closer to
those of the pastors than MFI, but they had no sense of overall
casualty figures, although they said they thought the number of
deaths was nearer to two than twenty.

6. (SBU) Comment: ConGen and Embassy are now scheduled to travel
to Dak Lak and Gia Lai provinces April 26-28. While we are
unlikely to have unfettered access to individuals who witnessed or
participated in the demonstrations, we hope to get a clearer
picture of what really happened. Based on responsible sources
that have reported both good and bad news about their situations
vis a vis the GVN, we continue to believe that some organizations
are making exaggerated claims about the size and extent of the
demonstrations and the nature of the GVN's response. Still, we do
hear credible reports of police force resulting in limited deaths
and injuries. The latest reports from Human Rights Watch are
slightly more measured than their earlier statements, and appear
to be based almost entirely on our third-country contact (who has
written for them in the past). While at least some of his sources
are good, we don't know how much of their information was based on
first-hand observation.

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