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Cablegate: Vietnam Mfa Offers Thoughts On International

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: Hanoi 1940 and previous.


2. (SBU) Summary: A Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer
spoke with Embassy Poloff August 2 to offer the MFA's
support for a USG visit to the Central Highlands to monitor
the condition of returned ethnic minority migrants; advise
that the GVN has provided multiple-entry visas to UNHCR's
Bangkok staff and is willing to allow on-demand visits to
the Central Highlands; and, request that the USG "clarify"
its statement to the press last week that the United States
is prepared to accept all of the migrants returned to
Vietnam July 20. He also communicated several unofficial
points: the GVN is not going to approve an international
head of the Vietnam UNHCR office resident in Vietnam; the
USG should work to internationalize the approach to
monitoring conditions for returned migrants to avoid turning
it into a bilateral issue; and, that the GVN considers its
willingness to allow access to the Central Highlands by
Embassies and Missions as well as UNHCR's Bangkok and Hanoi
staff to be a sufficient response to the demand that Vietnam
permit international monitoring of the situation in the
Central Highlands. Finally, he warned that the U.S. focus
on replacing the existing Vietnamese UNHCR Vietnam Chief of
Mission with a foreigner is perceived as offensive and
racist by some in the Vietnamese leadership. Embassy
recommends a number of proposed next steps (see para. 9).
These include adjusting U.S. policy to consider accepting
regular visits by foreign Missions and UNHCR staff from
Bangkok and Vietnam as meeting our demand for "international
monitoring" in the Central Highlands. End Summary.

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3. (SBU) Poloff spoke with an MFA contact on August 2. The
contact had three official points to convey:

-- The U.S. Embassy spokesman's quote in the press last week
that the United States will accept all of the returned
migrants was unhelpful. The MFA understands that the United
States is considering how to assist those migrants who might
be eligible under the Lautenberg Amendment on a case-by-case
basis, and is willing to cooperate with that. However, the
MFA feels that we should issue a correction or clarification
to "dispel misunderstanding" and avoid raising expectations
in the returnee community. (Note: as EAP/BCLTV knows, this
statement was not completely vetted. Embassy will prepare
and clear a clarification. End Note.)

-- The MFA is willing to assist with facilitating USG visits
to the Highlands to meet with returned migrants, but
requires that the requests for visits be channeled through
the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi to the Consular Department of the
MFA under the cover of a diplomatic note in order to make
certain that "everything is done according to procedure."
He explained that there is nothing illegal about such a
visit and it is within the MFA's assigned responsibilities
to assist; however, it will be necessary to follow the
procedures very strictly to avoid any potential future
problems in case a "sensitive situation" develops. (Note:
Translated from the carefully parsed diplomatese, he was
saying that the MFA is willing to assist, but is going to
make sure that it has all possible legal cover in case
something goes awry and the GVN starts hunting for
scapegoats. It also appears to be a departure from normal
protocol where travel by ConGen officers to the Central
Highlands is managed through HCMC's External Relations
Office and the provinces themselves. End Note.)

-- The GVN has decided to allow UNHCR at-will access to the
Highlands and is committed to immediately facilitating any
UNHCR request to visit. UNHCR's Hanoi Chief of Mission Vu
Anh Son's visit July 22 and UNHCR Bangkok Regional
Representative Hasim Utkan's visit this week are evidence of
this shift. UNHCR Bangkok staff have been issued multiple-
entry Vietnamese visas specifically to facilitate spur-of-
the-moment visits.

4. (SBU) Our MFA interlocutor then said he wanted to
communicate "the true situation" but that due to the
sensitivity of the issue, none of the following points would
be provided (or acknowledged) officially:

-- The "senior leadership" of the GVN has decided that
granting permission for UNHCR to assign a foreign Chief of
Mission to its office in Vietnam would send a signal that
refugee problems in Vietnam have grown to the point where
UNHCR requires an entire office here, which is exactly the
opposite of the signal the GVN wants to send. Further, they
believe that this kind of public elevation of the status of
UNHCR's Vietnam office would embolden "economic migrants"
from the Central Highlands to cross the border into
Cambodia, endangering themselves and detracting from the
stability and development that the GVN is trying to build in
the Highlands. The request to assign a foreign COM is not
going to be granted, he said. However, it also will not be
denied officially. The MFA will avoid responding to UNHCR's
formal request.

-- The USG should try not to make this a "big deal" because
the more the USG highlights the returnee problem as a human
rights issue or a bilateral issue with the United States
(rather than a humanitarian or multilateral issue) the more
difficult it will become for the GVN to make what appear to
be concessions to outside pressure. If possible, it would
be very good if the United States works with other concerned
governments, such as the EU, to internationalize these
concerns. The MFA would accommodate requests for visits to
the Central Highlands from other Embassies.

-- The MFA believes that providing at-will access to the
Highlands for UNHCR's existing Vietnam office as well as
UNHCR's international staff in Bangkok, along with visits
from the U.S. and other countries' Missions in Vietnam,
should convince the international community of Vietnam's
sincerity with regard to its promises that returnees will be
well-treated. This is not a formal proposal or offer open
to negotiation, the MFA officer was quick to point out; it
is simply a description of the GVN's internal understanding
of the situation.

5. (SBU) Poloff pointed out that allowing a foreign Chief of
Mission (COM) in the UNHCR office in Hanoi would have the
exact opposite effect of what the GVN leadership feared: the
GVN's acceptance of the office would be an indication that
the situation had stabilized, and the presence of
international UNHCR staff in Vietnam would improve the
ability of UNHCR Cambodia to screen Vietnamese migrants
objectively and identify economic migrants. UNHCR and
Cambodia would then be able to repatriate migrants knowing
that their situation would be monitored in Vietnam. This in
turn would signal to potential migrant populations that the
arduous trek across the border into Cambodia would not
result in guaranteed refugee status or resettlement except
in genuine cases of persecution, which would cut the migrant
flow. The MFA officer acknowledged this reasoning, and
explained that while this interpretation had been debated
and considered in the GVN, the decision was that the
increased profile of UNHCR in Vietnam would create an
incentive to migrate and send the opposite signal from what
the GVN wants to communicate to its own citizens and the
outside world.

6. (SBU) The MFA officer then contributed his heavily-
caveated personal opinion that the USG's emphasis on
pressing Vietnam to authorize a foreign UNHCR COM in Vietnam
is seen by a sizeable number of officials within the GVN as
racist and offensive. Vu Anh Son, the current COM at UNHCR,
is acknowledged as a dedicated and capable UN official; the
only criticism of him is that he is Vietnamese. The clear
message - that the United States does not trust a Vietnamese
national to be an impartial and objective witness - is being
received very badly by some.

7. (SBU) The MFA officer wrapped up the conversation with a
reiteration of the "unofficial" nature of his comments
beyond the first three issues in paragraph three above. The
rest of the information (in paragraph four) was provided "on
the basis of mutual trust and respect," he said, under the
assumption that if the USG has a more clear understanding
about the way the GVN is thinking about these issues, it
will be able to tailor its own thinking and actions more
effectively. Acknowledging or publicizing these comments
would not be appropriate since they fall outside of what the
GVN has agreed to communicate formally to the USG. The last
point regarding leadership perceptions of the racist nature
of the USG message, he stressed, is his own personal

8. (SBU) During an exchange of views of the Central
Highlands with UNHCR Regional Representative Hasim Utkan
August 1, Utkan told us that he has "full confidence" in
Son. He was dismayed that some have called Son's integrity
into question because of his Vietnamese nationality. From
our conversations with Utkan it became apparent that he
believed that, so long as the "refusniks" were not refouled,
the issue of monitoring the welfare of the returnees was a
shorter term problem that could be managed through
complementary visits by UNHCR staff and Vietnam-accredited
diplomats from the international community (IC).
"Flexibility" was his mantra so long as the Tripartite MOU
was implemented successfully. (More on ConGen HCMC's
conversation with Utkan and Son septel.)

9. (SBU) ACTION REQUEST: Please comment/concur on our
proposed next steps:

-- We should consult with other Missions in Vietnam to
enlist their support and participation in the monitoring
effort to internationalize the issue and head off the
opposition of those who want to cast this as a bilateral

-- We should explore alternative staffing scenarios with
UNHCR that would allow them to accomplish their Vietnam
goals without an international Chief of Mission: for
example, they could use the Italian candidate they have in
mind, but base him in Bangkok and have him make regular
trips to the Highlands. In reality, Bangkok-Central
Highlands is not more onerous a trip than Hanoi-Central
Highlands. (Note: the MFA contact implied that the GVN
could accept an international Chief of Mission for Vietnam
if he were based in Bangkok, because "we do not control what
titles UNHCR gives its staff." End Note.)

-- We should back off the "placement of UNHCR international
staff in Vietnam" as the only solution to the international
monitoring problem. Regular visits by UNHCR staff based in
Bangkok and by Son based in Hanoi supplemented with regular
visits from Mission and IC staff members based in Vietnam
would accomplish as much, or more, than a single UNHCR
foreigner stationed in Hanoi, and would assuage the
political concerns of the GVN.

-- We should consider clarifying the U.S. Embassy's
misreported and not completely vetted statement last week.


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