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Cablegate: Violence Flares Between Police and Hoa Hao in Mekong

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 000825

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM
SUBJECT: VIOLENCE FLARES BETWEEN POLICE AND HOA HAO IN MEKONG
DELTA

REF: A) HCMC 600; B) HCMC 433

1. (SBU) Summary: A day of violence involving police and Hoa Hao
Buddhist adherents in the Mekong Delta included numerous arrests
and two self-immolations in An Giang province, one resulting in an
adherent's death. We have urged local officials to avoid taking
actions that would further stir up the situation and pressed Hoa
Hao dissident leaders to impress upon their followers that self-
immolation is not a constructive form of protest. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Nguyen Mai, Director of the California-based Hoa Hao
Buddhist Organization Phat Giao Hoa Hao, contacted us on August 5
to inform us that a Hoa Hao activist, Vo Van Thanh Liem, was badly
beaten and arrested by local police that day in An Giang province
in the Mekong Delta. Following up on that information, we
contacted Hoa Hao dissident leaders Le Quang Liem in HCMC and
Truong Van Duc in An Giang. (Per ref B, Duc was released from
prison on February 1 as part of the 2005 Tet amnesty. He was
sentenced to 12 years in prison in February 2001 for "causing
social disturbances" and "obstructing officials from carrying out
their duties.")

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3. (SBU) Liem and Duc asserted that police in the Mekong Delta had
launched a series of coordinated surprise raids to arrest Hoa Hao
activists throughout the Delta. Neither could offer any
explanation why the police were taking action at this time. They
noted, however, that police had intensified their surveillance of
Hoa Hao activists since they held a rally on June 4 in Dong Thap
province to commemorate the first death anniversary of Hoa Hao
dissident Ha Hai. (Note: Hai died from cancer two weeks after
being released from prison. Per ref A, at the June 4 event,
fighting broke out between the police and over 100 Hoa Hao
activists. The activists also displayed banners protesting GVN
"repression of the Hoa Hao," pictures of which were distributed on
the Internet. End Note.)

Series of Coordinated Arrests
-----------------------------

4. (SBU) Liem and Duc told us that, in addition to the arrest of
Vo Van Thanh Liem, the following incidents occurred on August 5:

-- Vo Van Thanh Liem's nephew Nguyen Phi Long was arrested at the
same time as his uncle.

--- At 0600, Nguyen Van Dien in Lai Vung district, Dong Thap
province, was "attacked" by about 20 police while praying in his
house. Police reportedly used electric rods to subdue him and
took him away.

-- At 0800, police attempted to arrest Vo Van Buu in neighboring
An Giang province. Buu attempted to self-immolate, but police
intervened in time. According to Liem, Buu was burned in the
attempt, but the severity of his injuries currently is not known.
Buu was taken to the local People's Committee headquarters before
being transported to another police detention facility in An Giang
province. The wife of Vo Van Buu, Mai Thi Dung, was arrested.

-- During the day, police arrested Tran Thanh Phong and his wife
Nguyen Thi Ha in An Giang province.

-- At 1100, police arrested Mai Van Thung in Dinh Yen commune, Lap
Vo district, Dong Thap province. His colleague To Van Manh was
arrested in the province an hour later.

-- A five-hour standoff between Dong Thap police and Tran Van Ut
ended in tragedy. According to Liem, when police rushed the house
to arrest Ut, he self-immolated. He was taken to a local
hospital, where he died an hour later. His body reportedly was
returned to his family for burial on August 7.

5. (SBU) We spoke again with Duc on August 8. Duc said that his
house was surrounded by 60 police officers. He told us that he
was prepared to commit self-immolation the moment the police enter
his house. This threat is keeping the police from acting, Duc
said.

Initial Official Reaction
-------------------------

6. (SBU) On August 8, Huynh Nhu Chau, Head of the Committee for
Religious Affairs in An Giang (protect), confirmed the arrests and
self-immolation incidents. In a surprisingly frank conversation,
Chau told us that in An Giang province six persons were arrested
because of their activities at the June 4 incident. He understood
that they would be charged with participating in an "illegal
activity that caused a public disturbance" or for "obstruction of
police." Chau explained that the police took two months to
investigate events surrounding the June 4 incident before acting.
In addition to the six, another 38 were "deeply involved" and also
may be arrested. Dong Thap officials were far more reluctant to
discuss the situation, but confirmed the death of Tran Van Ut and
said that senior officials were visiting the affected areas of the
province.

7. (SBU) Comment: As reported reftels, tensions had been building
between Hoa Hao dissidents and police, culminating in the June 4
incident, in which Hoa Hao protestors crossed an obvious redline.
Unfortunately, dialogue does not appear to be an option between
the two sides; Liem and his followers are just as uncompromising
as local officials. We have expressed our concern to provincial
government officials over the loss of life and injuries and urged
that they do whatever they can to avoid situations that might
spark further violence. Similarly, we (again) have pressed Liem
and Duc to urge calm upon their followers and to disavow self-
immolation as a form of protest. End Comment.

CHERN

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