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Cablegate: U.S. Humanitarian Demining Efforts in Vietnam

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 001442

SIPDIS

PACOM FOR FPA

STATE FOR PM/WRA

DOD FOR OSD/ISA LEW STERN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MASS PREL PGOV EAID VM
SUBJECT: U.S. HUMANITARIAN DEMINING EFFORTS IN VIETNAM
HAVING AN IMPACT

Ref: Hanoi 567

1. (U) Summary: The U.S.-funded VVAF survey project is
underway, though it has also lost its project manager and
will not be complete by September 30. U.S.-funded demining-
related NGOs are operating successfully in Quang Binh and
Quang Tri provinces and have generated goodwill towards the
U.S. The demining community supports the landmine/UXO
impact survey program. Provincial Army demining units are
grateful for U.S. assistance and would like to see more, if
possible. End Summary.

VVAF SURVEY PROJECT:
--------------------

2. (U) Guy Rhodes, head of the U.S.-funded Vietnam Veterans
of America Foundation UXO impact survey project (reftel) has
left the organization, he confirmed in a meeting with poloff
May 11. Alexander Reitveld, country representative for VVAF
in Vietnam, has assured post the project continues to
proceed. The survey staff is now fully trained, the systems
are in place, and the manual is complete, he noted. Rhodes
said the project staff is now in the field doing a pilot
test of the survey protocol and systems, and so far
everything is running smoothly. The survey itself is
scheduled to begin in late May, Rhodes said.

3. (U) Rhodes' resignation will not affect the project,
Reitveld said. Rhodes said he will still act in an advisory
capacity as necessary, and Reitveld will handle the
political side, including contact with the Ministry of
Defense and the Vietnamese mine clearance agency, BOMICO.
Michael Schenkman will continue handling the database,
mapping and technical side, Reitveld said, and VVAF will
hire a temporary person to do technical verification and
evaluations in the field for one week a month.

4. (U) Reitveld, in a May 19 conversation with DAO,
confirmed that the survey will not/not be complete by
September 30, 2004. To complete, the survey would need to
run until the end of February 2005, at an additional cost of
USD 278,000. Reitveld stated that if there were additional
delays or costs beyond February 2005, HQ VVAF would ensure
the completion of the project at its own expense.

U.S. DEMINING ACTIVITIES HAVING AN IMPACT
-----------------------------------------

5. (U) April 19-20, Poloff had discussions with Landmine
Survivors Network (LSN) in Quang Binh province and with Mine
Action Group (MAG) in Quang Tri. Poloff also discussed
demining and UXO clearance with provincial political and
military officials. The Vietnamese officials and the NGOs
were in agreement that U.S. assistance in these highly
affected provinces has been valuable and successful and
urged it to continue.

LSN
---

6. (U) According to Landmine Survivors Network Coordinator
Nguyen Hoa Hoc in Dong Hoi town, Quang Binh province, LSN
has been operating in Quang Binh since February 2003 with a
budget of USD 164,000. LSN uses that money to help
rehabilitate disabled residents of six communes in Quang
Binh. Hoc said that 80 percent of disabled people - mostly
amputees - in the six project communes are victims of the
war or of UXO. In general, Hoc noted, Quang Binh had a
smaller number of UXO victims than Quang Tri. In 2003 in
Quang Binh there were 30 UXO incidents, including 9
fatalities. Most of the victims were either children doing
agricultural tasks such as tending water buffalo or farmers
who built fires that detonated buried UXO, he said.

7. (U) Attitudes towards the U.S. have changed in Quang Binh
in the last 5-7 years, he said. Previously, the U.S. was
the target of a great deal of hard feelings, Hoc stated.
Since then, however, "increased openness" and "improved
relations", as well as the beginning of projects such as the
LSN project and MAG's clearance activities, had changed
peoples' minds, he said. Hoc singled out MAG for particular
praise, saying MAG had "cleared so much area, and freed so
much land for development".

QUANG BINH PROVINCIAL OFFICIALS
-------------------------------

8. (U) It was "vital" that MAG continued its work to open up
land for development and use, said Colonel Phu Van Te of the
Quang Binh Provincial Military Command in a meeting with
Poloff on April 20. MAG also played a key role in
coordinating district military and provincial military
engineering teams, Te said. According to Hoc of LSN, MAG is
also the main organization in the province for local-level
UXO problems. When a farmer finds UXO, he contacts his
district-level security forces, or the fire brigade, who
contacts the provincial military, which either sends a team
to clear the object or asks MAG to do it, Hoc and Te both
said. Sometimes the province (or MAG) will send someone to
cordon off the area until more is found so that the
clearance teams can clear several sites in one area and thus
save some time and transportation costs, Te acknowledged.
Te said the longest wait for that service was about three
days, and that the Provincial engineers had responded five
times already in April. That unit's first priority is
dealing with reported problems, and second is infrastructure
projects, he noted.

MAG: SUPPORT THE VVAF SURVEY
----------------------------

9. (U) Nick Proudman, Program Manager of MAG in Quang Tri
province said in a meeting with Poloff April 20 that MAG has
one 12-man mobile team in Quang Binh (out of four total
teams) with a province-wide mandate. That team received its
taskings from the Provincial army, he said, and does "some"
emergency clearance as necessary. He agreed with Col. Te
that provincial teams doing emergency clearance are usually
able to get to it within three days, assuming they are
compensated for their gas and other daily expenses, and that
the team is available. However, he acknowledged, Provincial
army teams are "heavily tied up" with commercial clearance.
MAG also had five twelve-man teams operating in Quang Tri
doing area clearance in cooperation with the Provincial
Government of Quang Tri as well as emergency clearance as
needed, Proudman said. Proudman encouraged the USG to
ensure that the VVAF survey was completed in Quang Tri. The
survey, Proudman said, would enable NGOs like MAG, along
with Provincial authorities, to make informed decisions
about where to concentrate their clearance resources. The
potential for resource savings was "huge", Proudman said,
adding that occasionally MAG found itself wasting
significant time and resources "clearing" a priority area
that turned out to be only very lightly contaminated with
UXO. The VVAF survey project would eliminate that kind of
waste, Proudman said, and result in "major" cost and time
savings to the organizations engaged in clearance.

10. (U) The political leadership of Quang Binh and Quang Tri
both praised U.S. demining/UXO clearance efforts. Vice-
Chairman of the Quang Binh People's Committee Dr. Nguyen Van
Vinh told poloff April 20 that "work such as LSN and the
VVAF survey project helps us upgrade and strengthen our
relationship with the U.S. and overcome the consequences of
war." He noted that the Province intended to contribute
staff to the VVAF survey project. Director Hoang Dang Mai
of the Quang Tri Department of Foreign Affairs also praised
the work of U.S. NGOs (such as Peace Trees, a group that
engages in Mine Risk Education (MRE) programs, environmental
restoration, microcredit lending, and UXO clearance
activities) and USG-funded clearance work by BOMICO and
foreign NGOs such MAG.

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE NEEDS
--------------------------

10. (U) Military clearance experts in both Quang Binh and
Quang Tri said they appreciated U.S. assistance in the
provision of equipment but noted they could always use more.
Col. Te of Quang Binh said the province had one team of
deminers using a TM88 Chinese-made metal detector for
clearance at a depth of up to 50 cm. To clear areas to a
depth greater than 50 cm, his team used G872 bomb detectors,
he said, and in some cases they were given access to Vallon
bomb detectors by BOMICO. Te had a varied list of equipment
needs he asked the U.S. help him meet, all related to
detection and clearance of UXO.

11. (U) In Quang Tri, the deputy commander of the provincial
demining unit noted that his unit had detailed 10 engineers
to Peace Trees, and maintained its own clearance unit. The
Quang Tri Provincial Military Command had specialized
clearance teams and non-specialized teams who were capable
of conducting clearance activities if absolutely necessary,
he said. The Quang Tri teams were in need of assistance in
repairing broken equipment, he added.

12. (U) Comment: These recent discussions with various
stakeholders in the demining/UXO scene in Vietnam revealed
three significant issues we had not understood clearly
before. First, the "clearance community" (meaning those
organizations involved in actually clearing mines and UXO)
is highly supportive of the U.S.-funded VVAF survey project
in Quang Tri as a way for them to focus their efforts where
they are most needed, and thus save money and increase
effectiveness. Second, the U.S. effort to support UXO
clearance in the highly contaminated areas of Quang Binh and
Quang Tri is both recognized and appreciated, by average
citizens as well as the political leadership. And third,
the "clearance community" is currently sufficiently large to
handle emergency clearance needs as they come up, in a
timely manner. Through continued engagement with the
Ministry of Defense, the governments in highly affected
areas, and the demining NGO community, we can refine our own
approach to maximize the humanitarian benefits to the
Vietnamese people and the impact on our bilateral
relationship.
BURGHARDT

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