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Cablegate: Mission Team Visits Gia Lai in Wake of Protests

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HANOI 001268

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF, PRM
BANGKOK FOR REFCORD
GENEVA FOR REFCORD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL PGOV KIRF VM HUMANR ETMIN
SUBJECT: MISSION TEAM VISITS GIA LAI IN WAKE OF PROTESTS

Ref: A. HCMC 573 B. STATE 86031 C. HANOI 1076
D. HANOI 1006

This is a joint Embassy/ConGen cable.

1. (SBU) Summary: Officials in Gia Lai province April 27-29
downplayed reports of violence connected to the April 10
events in the province, telling Mission poloffs that
protests had taken place in nine locations, had involved a
total of no more 1000-3000 demonstrators, and were quickly
contained. They admitted three deaths, including one
policeman. Missionoffs were unable to talk freely with
local residents to assess these claims. There are some
indications that the number of protesters and level of
violence were greater than officials admit, but the
demonstrations in Gia Lai seem to have been smaller than in
neighboring Dak Lak province (ref a) and authorities
appeared to have respond with relative restraint. The role
of outside agitators - a constant theme - seems credible.
End Summary.

Setting the stage with care
---------------------------

2. (SBU) Missionoffs were met by provincial officials at the
border with Dak Lak province and soon were in the midst of
an eight-car motorcade of press, police, and national and
local officials, with extra motorcyclists apparently
following the group from place to place. Vietnamese
journalists attended all meetings, with what appeared to be
plainclothes police filming every moment. "Impromptu"
discussions with villagers who were described as having
taken part in protests similarly took place with press
cameras and microphones thrust into interviewees' faces,
local officials providing translation between ethnic
languages and Vietnamese - and often going so far as to
prompt respondents' answers - and men who appeared to be
undercover police pulling subjects aside for a quick word
before they talked with missionoffs. Even during the
evenings, plainclothes officers appeared to be following
missionoffs and FSNs.

3. (U) Authorities nonetheless allowed visits to the three
districts - Chu Se, Dak Doa, and A Yun Pa - where
missionoffs had heard from both official and non-government
sources that most of the demonstrations had taken place. In
each of these districts, missionoffs were able to travel to
communes that had been the scene of protests, and talk with
local officials and protest participants.

The official line
-----------------

4. (U) Chairman Nguyen Vy Ha of the Provincial People's
Committee met officers on April 27. According to Ha, the
demonstrations took place in nine locations in three
districts, involved people from 30 villages, and had a total
of no more than 1000-3000 participants, Ha claimed. They
were confined to rural areas and commune headquarters, he
said, never reaching even district capitals, and with only a
minor disturbance near the provincial capital of Pleiku. Ha
claimed that about 100 people were detained on the day of
the protests. As of April 27, only 10 "ringleaders" were
still being held and may face judicial action; all others
were let go "within two days" of the protests. He described
the death toll as including one militiaman and two
protesters killed (by rocks thrown by other protesters, Ha
claimed), as well as injuries (none serious) involving 20
protesters and 40-50 police, militia, and officials. Ha
admitted the presence of a government helicopter in the area
on April 10 but claimed it was doing a land survey, not
involved in stopping the protests. (Note: some organizations
have alleged that an army helicopter was used to suppress
the demonstrations.)

5. (U) Chairman Ha alleged that the protests were all
sparked by "outsiders," and that the demonstrators had even
been told they would be picked up by planes and taken to the
USA, or had been promised money for taking part. He said
that when local officials explained to the protesters that
this was not the case, most dispersed, leaving only "a few"
who then clashed with police and militia. Ha said that a
small number of the protesters had been armed, and that,
while the demonstrations had been smaller than in 2001, they
were more carefully prepared and "more bellicose," with some
protesters clashing with officials and militia members
immediately upon encounter.
6. (U) As to what caused the demonstrations, Ha pointed
solely to outside instigation by Kok Ksor, whom he depicted
as leading "FULRO under the guise of the Montagnard
Foundation." Ha said he recognized that the USG did not
support the Dega movement, but commented that "your actions
do not match your words." Ha cited the previously planned
Mission trip to the Central Highlands on April 10, a Mission
request to visit the Highlands "one hour" after the protests
began in 2001, and the Mission's current visit as "brazen
behavior" that raised "suspicions." He said the US
Administration had "taken Kok Ksor in," mused about "just
how deeply involved you are," and declared that "you are
impinging on our national security." Ha also made negative
reference to "a certain organization that I think you know"
which was "giving grants" for people to return to Gia Lai to
live. (Note: This may have been a reference to the UNHCR,
although no officially resettled refugees have been brought
to Gia Lai. End Note)

7. (U) Ha played a video showing parts of a demonstration in
G'Lar commune of Dak Doa district, including several scenes
involving perhaps 300-500 demonstrators. Several protesters
wore masks, and some threw stones or held large sticks.
There were some apparent civilian authorities visible, but
no police. In one scene, a fire truck hosed protesters with
water. The video also showed some government buildings and
vehicles with broken glass or minor damage, some militia
with minor scratches, and one badly cut and bruised man -
identified as a militia member - in a hospital bed.
(Comment: The clash depicted in this video appeared far less
intense and less violent than in the video shown to
missionoffs in Dak Lak. End comment)

8. (U) The media was present for - and widely reported on -
the meeting with Chairman Ha. Missionoffs requested to hold
the discussions without the press present, but Ha insisted
that "there was nothing to hide." After lengthy debate, he
agreed, however, to reserve a final 20 minutes for
discussion without the press. During this private period,
Ha scolded the US Mission for "acting differently" from
other embassies and for frequently trying to "break away"
from the schedule provincial authorities had prepared. Ha
also warned that many of the "deceived minorities" bore
grudges against Americans. He claimed it was up to the
province to make sure missionoffs were always escorted by
police and officials.

No religious participation
--------------------------

9. (U) Ha denied any religious angle to the demonstrations.
Nguyen Thanh Cam, Deputy Chairman of the Gia Lai Department
for Ethnic and Religious Affairs, reiterated this point.
Cam said that he had personally made fact-finding trips
after the protests, and found that Protestants and Catholics
"had not taken part." He added that religious services had
taken place as normal on Easter Sunday.

10. (SBU) In a meeting arranged by the province, Pastor Siu
Y Kim (protect) of the Gia Lai board of the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) confirmed that local
Protestants were not involved in the demonstrations, but
predicted that "it is inevitable" that "some" provincial
officials will connect the April 10 events and
Protestantism. Kim added that, while he believed the
protests had been "arranged" from the outside, problems in
the province had "deep roots," including "discrimination"
against ethnic minorities and government-imposed
restrictions on the ability of SECV to meet the spiritual
needs of the province's Protestant believers (without giving
specific examples).

11. (SBU) Note: Provincial authorities appeared to be at
pains to limit missionoffs' ability to speak with Pastor
Kim. Authorities rearranged the schedule at the last minute
to cut the meeting to half an hour, but gave Kim a
completely different time for the meeting. Despite a
request by missionoffs for a private session with Kim, Gia
Lai authorities called Kim directly to urge that they be
included. Subsequently, press and officials repeatedly
tried to enter the room and also photographed proceedings
through the windows. When the meeting went past its
allotted time, authorities entered the room and tried to end
the discussion. Similar harassment has been experienced
during officially-arranged meetings with the SECV in Gia Lai
during visits before April 10, however. End note
In the Districts
----------------

12. (U) Nguyen Dung, the chairman of Chu Se district in
southern Gia Lai, said about 1500 people "had been incited"
by about "200 troublemakers" to protest in several different
parts of his district. The largest protest included 150-170
ethnic Jarai participants; other demonstrations numbered no
more than 50 protesters. The ringleaders told people that
they would be taken to the USA, having been incited by Kok
Ksor - who sent $15,000 to the district for the purpose.
"Outsiders" coordinated the demonstrations by calling or
sending written messages to "local toughs" telling them
where to protest; Dung did not explain how he knew this.
Dung said only three ringleaders from the clashes were still
being held and would be tried. He predicted, however, that
their sentences would only be three months long.

13. (U) Dung escorted Missionoffs (and press entourage) to a
site in Ia Le district where a protest had taken place. A
Jarai demonstrator recounted how he had seen a group
gathering on the morning of April 10, and had joined in
after being told he would "benefit" from the protest,
although he said he was not clear how. The participant
added that about 50 people demonstrated in that place, but
they quickly dispersed without injuries. He said "some"
participants had been detained but none were still under
arrest. Two participants remained "in hiding," however.

14. (U) In Dak Doa district, just north of the provincial
capital of Pleiku, District Chairman Pham Ngoc Chien said
about 300 people participated in three of the district's
communes. Chien said that the protesters made no political
claims, but came carrying "rice, rocks, and alcohol." He
confirmed that there had been no serious injuries in his
district, that all detainees have been released, and that
"life had returned to normal." In Ko Dang commune of Dak
Doa, the commune chairman - an ethnic Ba'na - recounted that
about 100 protesters - many of them drunk - had set upon the
commune headquarters by throwing rocks, breaking windows,
smashing equipment, and chasing and attempting to strangle
him. He said that there were only about ten militia
protecting the building as the local authorities tried to
defuse the situation.

15. (U) The Ko Dang commune chairman said nine local people
had been arrested and all had been transferred to Dak Doa
district; he admitted two were still being held. An ethnic
Ba'na participant in those demonstrations said that "masked
men" came to his house on April 10 at three in the morning,
saying they were going to have a "coup d'etat." The
demonstrator professed to poloff - and surrounding police
and press - that his reason for protesting was that "the
commune was not doing enough to implement the great national
unity policy." He estimated the number of participants at
about 100, and said all had been released and no one was
still in hiding. (Note: It appeared that a local official
serving as a translator prompted some of these answers. End
note)

16. (U) In G'Lar commune of Dak Doa district, the commune
chairman said 300 people had demonstrated in front of the
commune headquarters, and that only 10-12 "extremists" had
thrown rocks. The chairman said that only local militia and
officials - all of them ethnic Ba'na - countered the
demonstrators, and that nobody had been arrested. A
participant in the demonstrations said that "bad elements"
came promising him money to take part in the demonstrations,
but claimed that nobody had been injured or remained in
hiding.

17. (U) In A Yun Pa district, in southeastern Gia Lai,
district chairman Le Vinh recounted how the local Jarai
minorities had been "deceived" by outsiders, and added that
most of the estimated 200 protesters in his district were
stopped en route to an old USAF airstrip, where they
believed airplanes would meet them. He said that the
protesters had mostly been unarmed, but many carried
household belongings and food for their trip abroad. Vinh
said that there had been no violence and that demonstrators
had dispersed quickly when they understood that they had
been deceived. A local Protestant church leader in A Yun Pa
separately echoed that the protests had been limited, and
said there was no religious element to them. One protester
claimed he and his wife joined 15 other families traveling
to the airport simply because other people had told him to
do so. He said he had believed the demonstrations were to
request the release of people detained after the 2001
unrest.

18. (U) In P'Rel commune (also spelled Rbol), near A Yun Pa
district, a village headman and an individual who had
observed the protests said that about 300-400 individuals -
most from other villages - had been traveling to the old
airstrip and were blocked at a bridge by local authorities
and militia members. They said most of the people had
returned home, but some had become upset and thrown rocks
and fought with militia members. The observer said most of
the groups traveling to the airstrip were families, and many
seemed to have no idea where they were going or why. Both
claimed no one had been seriously injured, and said they did
not know of anyone arrested or in hiding.

Comment
-------

19. (SBU) Despite the tightly controlled nature of this
visit, it appears clear that numbers of participants,
arrests, injuries, and perhaps deaths are likely higher than
officials admit but dramatically less than claimed by
overseas groups. It is notable that the province allowed
Missionoffs access to all sites requested - albeit under
strict observation. The GVN seems to be following a similar
"openness" (relatively speaking) track with other groups,
admitting three international wire service journalists (but
excluding AFP) to the Highlands April 25 to 28, as well as
Vatican Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pietro Parolin
on April 30 and an expected delegation from the Canadian,
New Zealand, Norwegian, and Swiss Embassies May 9-13. The
most alarmist reports from the region seem false; there were
no burned out buildings; plenty of young men were hanging
around the villages watching the visiting foreigners; no
grief-stricken widows or parents blurted out accounts of
murdered relatives. The greatly outnumbered police and
militia on April 10 and 11 appear to have responded with
relative restraint. During this visit, however, the
constant police and official presence gave no opportunity
for missionoffs candidly to canvass local residents. The
hand of outsiders - a constant them of local and provincial
authorities - appears credible, as do long-standing
complaints about discrimination, land disputes, restrictions
on religious practice, etc.
BURGHARDT

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