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Cablegate: Christmas in Vietnam's 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 001590

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV PREF KIRF VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM'S CENTRAL HIGHLANDS

REF: A) HANOI 3392 B) HCMC 1587

1. (SBU) Summary: According to contacts in the Catholic and
Protestant communities, Christmas services in the Central
Highlands provinces of Gia Lai and Kontum were numerous and
peaceful, although under heavy police and military scrutiny. In
contrast, Protestant services in Dak Lak province were sharply
limited. Our contacts echoed the GVN's allegation that some
Montagnards in the U.S. were attempting to organize Christmas
protests and a mass cross-border migration to Cambodia. With few
exceptions, Christmas celebrations were conducted freely elsewhere
in Southern and Central Vietnam. End summary.

2. (SBU) On December 24, the GVN notified Embassy and ConGen of a
"Montagnard Foundation plot" to cause unrest in the Central
Highlands over Christmas and said it would deal severely with
perpetrators (reftels). ConGen has been in ongoing contact with
Catholic leaders, the GVN-recognized Southern Evangelical Church
of Vietnam (SECV) and unrecognized Protestant House church
leaders. They told us that there was a heavier than usual police
and military presence throughout the Central Highlands. In Gia
Lai Province, one contact estimated that approximately 100
Montagnards were detained. Most were released after police
questioning, although a few may still be in custody. Our contacts
heard reports of sporadic border crossings into Cambodia, but
could not confirm any incidents.

3. (SBU) Despite the tension over possible unrest, Protestant and
Catholic contacts in Gia Lai and Kontum told us that their
congregations observed Christmas without police harassment or
interference. The Kontum Catholic diocese (which covers Gia Lai
and Kontum) said its Christmas celebrations this year were
"magnificent." Diocesan officials noted that they secured
permission from provincial authorities to hold additional services
at fourteen temporary locations (4 in Kontum, 10 in Gia Lai) to
meet demand.

4. (SBU) In Gia Lai, the GVN-recognized Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV) held services for over 75,000 -- mostly
Montagnard -- followers. Our SECV contact told us that SECV
Christmas services were held at 16 recognized churches and another
440 "meeting points." He added that the provincial government
will recognize a 17th SECV church in the province on December 30.
Other contacts told us that unrecognized house churches in Kontum
and Gia Lai also were able to hold Christmas services without
incident.

5. (SBU) In Dak Lak Province, Catholic services were unimpeded.
Local officials permitted Protestant services only at the four
recognized SECV churches. Police were widely deployed in
Montagnard-majority villages and prevented other Protestant
worshipers from congregating. One source added that the phone
lines of many house church pastors in Dak Lak were cut. A second
house church leader text messaged us that in the days before
Christmas there were signs of impending unrest in a number of
Montagnard villages. As a result, he texted, local authorities
"blocked the church from organizing Christmas" there.

Was there a Montagnard Foundation "plot"?
------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Protestant community contacts said that the "Montagnard
Foundation" was involved in organizing unrest and a mass cross-
border migration of ethnic minorities. One of our contacts, who
helps establish house churches in Dak Lak, said that the
Montagnard Foundation encouraged Dak Lak Montagnards to flee to
Cambodia, promising resettlement in the United States. Another
contact told us that in Gia Lai, former members of FULRO and other
"Dega" separatists were attempting to organize Christmastime
protests but were detained by police. (Note: FULRO is the
acronym for the insurgency that operated in the Central Highlands
until 1992 and sought to create an independent Montagnard state.
End Note.) Our Gia Lai contact explained that the Montagnard
Foundation is capitalizing on the frustration and alienation of
the ethnic minority community in the Highlands.

Services normal elsewhere in the South and Center
--------------------------------------------- ----

7. (SBU) Catholic officials said that services were packed
throughout southern and central Vietnam with no reported
incidents. Protestant house church leaders told us that, barring
a handful of exceptions, they heard of no reports of serious
police harassment of the thousands of house church Christmas
services in southern and central Vietnam.

Comment
-------
8. (SBU) The clampdown on ethnic minority Protestants in Dak Lak
is not unexpected in light of the GVN's indications of planned
unrest. (More surprising is its sharing this information with us
in advance.) We also note that none of our religious contacts in
the region contradicted GVN allegations of impending trouble or of
Montagnard Foundation involvement. Provincial officials in Gia
Lai and Kontum demonstrated considerable confidence in allowing
unimpeded Christmas celebrations in the face of possible unrest.
In Gia Lai, the Protestant Community has firewalled itself from
the "Dega" movement and established a working relationship with
provincial officials. In contrast, Dak Lak's provincial
government remains the most hardline compared to other Central
Highlands provinces and there is little constructive dialogue
between officials and Protestant leaders to ease tension.

WINNICK

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