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Cablegate: Results of Usg Refugee Monitoring Visit to Gia Lai

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: State 148146

1. (SBU) Summary: Based on interviews and observations during a
visit to Gia Lai Province September 6-8, a joint Hanoi-HCMC team
found no indications of mistreatment or discrimination against the
18 returnees interviewed. Although a number of returnees raised
grievances related to GVN policies on religion or alleged
expropriation of land, none indicated that they felt they had been
discriminated against since returning to Vietnam. Provincial
officials emphasized their commitment to peaceful reintegration of
all returnees as well as the full and positive implementation of
the Tripartite Agreement with UNHCR and Cambodia. Officials were
concerned about the spread of "Dega separatism" within the ethnic
minority community (which manifested itself during interviews with
some returnees). That said, the province appeared to be taking a
more positive approach to the socio-economic challenges --
including religious freedom -- that affect the ethnic minority
community in Gia Lai. Per reftel request, paragraph 18 contains a
draft "monitoring report" that could be used to answer questions
about the team's visit. Septel will report in detail on our
discussions on religious freedom and family reunification visas
(VISAS-93). End Summary.

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2. (SBU) On September 6-8, Hanoi Pol/C and HCMC PolOff,
accompanied by HCMC Refugee Resettlement Section NGO Liaison, met
with Provincial and District-level officials in Gia Lai Province
to assess the welfare of some of the ethnic minority returnees
from Cambodia. The team also reviewed with Government officials
their efforts to tackle some of the underlying causes of ethnic
minority dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement in the province,
including questions related to religious freedom. During the
visit, the team met with Pham The Dung, Chairman of Gia Lai
People's Committee; Colonel Tran Dinh Thu, Vice Director of Gia
Lai Department of Public Security; Nguyen Khoa Lai, Vice Chairman
of Gia Lai Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs; Phan Trung Tuong,
Vice Chairman of the People's Committee of Ia Grai District;
Nguyen Dung, Chairman of the People's Committee of Chu Se
District; Pastor Siu Uy, Chairman of the Board of Representatives
of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) in Gia Lai;
and other representatives of the People's Committees and People's
Councils in Ia Grai and Chu Se Districts.

Local Government: Committed to Peaceful Reintegration
--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (SBU) Provincial officials repeatedly underscored their
commitment to reintegrate the returnees peacefully and to fulfill
all of Vietnam's obligations under the Tripartite agreement with
UNHCR and the Cambodian Government. The province considers the
returnees to be "victims" who were misled by promises of riches
and resettlement in the United States. They were being treated
fairly and humanely, the People's Committee Chairman and other
local officials assured the team repeatedly. The province had
provided returnees with various forms of assistance (food,
clothes, kerosene) under GVN and provincial-level rural
development programs. It was up to officials at the village level
to decide what specific assistance was needed -- including
providing housing and land grants -- after conducting interviews
with the returnees.

4. (SBU) Provincial and local officials told the team that
returnees were not being provided with assistance above and beyond
what other ethnic minority individuals in those villages would
receive. The Government would not "discriminate" between
returnees and those who had stayed in the allocation and
distribution of assistance. That said, the province's emphasis
was to do more for the province's "original inhabitants." The
officials, particularly the Deputy MPS Chief, told us that the
province understands that it must do more to develop and integrate
the province's ethnic minority community to minimize the appeal of
"Dega separatists" that remain active in the province. Provincial
officials cited the education deficit in the ethnic minority
community as perhaps their biggest long-term development
challenge. The Chu Se District People's Committee Chairman said
that he would welcome remittances from the United States to ethnic
minority families in his district.

5. (SBU) People's Committee and Police representatives emphasized
that the province was addressing the spiritual needs of the ethnic
minority community in Gia Lai. The province has accelerated its
recognition of churches affiliated with the SECV. The Vice
Director of Public Security told us that the province has
recognized nine new SECV churches in 2005, bringing the total to
27 in the province. Other SECV and house church congregations are
being allowed to function in accordance with Vietnam's new legal
framework on religion, the Provincial People's Committee told us.
The Vice Director emphasized that the province's policy is to
"normalize the practice of faith." During sidebar discussions
following our interviews with returnees, district-level officials
explained that the province wishes to provide viable alternatives
to "Dega Protestantism," which is encouraging intolerance and
separatism within the ethnic minority community. Separately,
leaders of the SECV's provincial representative board praised
cooperation with the local government and told the delegation that
they anticipate that they will have up to 37 recognized churches
in the province by year's end. (We will provide more on
developments concerning religious freedom issues in the province
of Gia Lai by septel.)

Meetings with Returnees

6. (SBU) Embassy/ConGen team met September 7-8 with 18 ethnic
Jarai returnees (including a mother who spoke for her minor son)
from Ia Grai and Chu Se Districts in Gia Lai Province. With the
exception of one meeting at a returnee's home, all the interviews
were conducted at local government centers. 15 of the 18
returnees were from the group of 94 who were forced to return to
Vietnam in July after UNHCR determined that they were not
refugees. Roughly two-thirds of the interviews were conducted in
Jarai language through local government translators. While one
interpreter in particular appeared to try to alter or shade the
content of the responses, the delegation was in control of the
interviews and could redirect questions when answers appeared
incongruous. (Many of the returnees understood at least some
Vietnamese, facilitating our communication.) Although there were
many officials present (including a pushy police official who
accompanied us as a "journalist"), only two interviewees appeared
intimidated or otherwise ill at ease. Many of the returnees
demonstrated a breezy familiarity with local officials that in
some cases bordered on contempt.

7. (SBU) All the returnees were from the ethnic minority "Jarai"
community. Many had not been interviewed before during the
previous five UNHCR visits to Gia Lai. All appeared to be in good
physical condition. Most of the returnees had little or no
education. The best educated was a young returnee woman, aged 21,
who had finished seventh grade. One interviewee, who had crossed
to Cambodia with her minor son, claimed that she was seeking to
join her husband who fled Vietnam in 2002 and was resettled in the
United States in 2003. She did not know if a petition had been
filed on her and her son's behalf. On September 10, we briefed
UNHCR Phnom Penh representative Thamrongsak Meechubot on this
case. Meechubot -- in HCMC on his way to Gia Lai to meet with the
six "refusniks" -- promised to look at the interview records,
telling us that UNHCR normally would recommend such persons for
resettlement. HCMC's Refugee Resettlement Section also is looking
into this case.

8. (SBU) In each interview, the USG team focused on:

-- the returnee's living conditions prior to going to Cambodia,
including employment and land ownership (we also sought
information on marital status, family size, education and

-- the circumstances surrounding the returnee's decision to travel
to Cambodia and the mechanics thereof;

-- the returnee's time in Cambodia, including interactions with
UNHCR staff, camp conditions and any issues related to the return
to Vietnam;

-- the returnee's life in Vietnam since returning, including any
bad or unfair treatment by officials, ostracizing by neighbors and
any Government assistance provided to help with reintegration.

9. (SBU) None of the returnees indicated that they had been
discriminated against, mistreated or threatened in any way by
Government officials since their return. Most had received some
assistance such as rice, gasoline, salt, kerosene or other
essential goods after returning. One person had received a five
million Dong (USD 325) cash loan to develop his cashew farm.
There was at least one case where the returnee refused Government
assistance. A small minority received no assistance and/or was
landless. Government officials promised to investigate. (Note:
it appeared that the level of assistance varied from village to
village and was tied to the assistance package that village
officials were distributing to ethnic minority residents. End

10. (SBU) The majority of returnees said that they had left for
Cambodia for economic reasons; they said rumors were circulating
in the community that they could receive lucrative employment or
resettlement in the United States if they fled to Cambodia.
Others said that they hoped that UNHCR could "help get their land
back." A small minority said they had fled because they were
"looking for religious freedom." None of the returnees was
specific about who had helped them get to Cambodia or how they got
to the border.

11. (SBU) Of those who claimed to be seeking to get their land
back, a number indicated that part of the land their family had
cleared and claimed had been taken by State-owned coffee and
rubber plantations without compensation. Others appeared to
protest more generally that traditional Jarai lands had been
occupied by ethnic Vietnamese migrants in recent years. However,
almost all the returnees had between one-third and one hectare (.7
to 2.5 acres) of land on which they grew rice, cassava and other
cash crops such as coffee and cashews. A few worked as day
laborers to supplement the family's farming income.

Religion and the Dega Movement

12. (SBU) All the returnees self-identified themselves as
"Protestant," but none would state to which particular
denomination they belonged. Three claimed that religious freedom
concerns were paramount in their decision to cross to Cambodia.
Almost all stated that local officials prevented them from
gathering and said that they could only worship at home. None
claimed that they were pressured to abandon their faith. None
expressed any awareness of or interest in the SECV as a possible
alternative to worshiping at home.

13. (SBU) Local officials said that the returnees were "Dega
Protestants" and confirmed that the province was attempting to
restrict the spread of what it considers to be a separatist creed.
Some said that Dega activists still were attempting to encourage
people to cross to Cambodia. The Chu Se District People's
Committee Chairman added that key leaders of the Dega movement
outside Vietnam are ethnic Jarai, and the Jarai are the largest
ethnic minority group in the province (70 percent of the ethnic
minority population in Chu Se). Therefore, he was not surprised
that so many of those that fled to Cambodia or were associated
with "Dega" were Jarai.

14. (SBU) A number of the interviewees clearly were imbued
strongly with notions of ethnic minority exclusivism. One
confirmed that she had participated in anti-GVN protests in Gia
Lai Province in 2001 and 2004. She stated that she rejected the
SECV and believed that every ethnic group should have its own
independent church.

Treatment in Cambodia

15. (SBU) Two returnees reported seeing Cambodians in uniforms
manhandling returnees while trying to get them on buses on the day
of the forced return to Vietnam. One of these two returnees
claimed she was struck, but not injured, by one of these
Cambodians. A third returnee claimed he saw Cambodian officials
use an "electric baton." Other returnees from the cohort of
forced returnees did not/not confirm these allegations. There
were no other reports of specific problems or incidents while in
the refugee camps. We have relayed these reports to UNHCR
Meechubot, who indicated he would investigate.

16. (SBU) Comment: Thus far Gia Lai leadership appears to be
living up to its commitment to ensure that the returnees are
reintegrated and face no retribution. Its policy of "non-
discrimination" between returnees and those who remained appears
balanced and fair. The returnees have access to assistance --
including land and housing grants -- while the provincial
government does not create economic incentives for people to flee.
Provincial officials welcomed targeted UNHCR assistance to assist
with resettlement as well as more general USG assistance to assist
the province in its economic development.

17. (SBU) Clearly robust international monitoring, which we plan
to continue, helps keep local officials on the straight and
narrow. However, our visit underscores that there also appears to
be a new, more positive approach to dealing with ethnic minority
issues in Gia Lai. In terms of access and in terms of substantive
dialogue, our visit was the most open and productive we have had
in the Central Highlands in memory. While continuing to take a
tough stand against the "Dega movement," provincial leaders do
appear more serious about tackling the socio-economic challenges -
- including issues of religious freedom -- that affect the ethnic
minority community in Gia Lai. End Comment.

18. (SBU) Begin Draft Monitoring Report on Visit:

The Government of Vietnam and the Province of Gia Lai facilitated
the travel of a joint Embassy Hanoi/Consulate General Ho Chi Minh
City team on September 7-8 to Ia Grai and Chu Se Districts in Gia
Lai Province to meet with 18 ethnic Jarai returnees (including a
mother who spoke for her minor son). Although a number of these
returnees had come back to Vietnam voluntarily, the majority had
been forced to return to Vietnam in July after being denied
refugee status by UNHCR in Cambodia. The U.S. Government team
also met with provincial- and district-level officials to discuss
their policies regarding returnees and broader issues related to
the treatment of ethnic minorities. In working with the
Government of Vietnam to arrange this visit, the U.S. Government
team sought to interview individuals who had not previously met
with UNHCR representatives conducting monitoring visits.

In each interview, conducted with the assistance of Vietnamese and
Jarai interpreters, the U.S. Government team sought to ascertain
the conditions faced by these 18 individuals after their return to
Vietnam. The team also questioned the returnees about any
Vietnamese Government assistance provided to them to help with
reintegration into their communities.

Based on the U.S. Government team's interviews and observations,
there were no indications that the 18 individuals had been
mistreated in any way by Vietnamese Government officials or other
Vietnamese citizens following their return to Vietnam. Although a
number of these returnees did not hesitate to raise various
grievances related to GVN policies, none indicated that they felt
they had been mistreated or discriminated against since returning.
While a number of them had been called on by local police other
officials after their return, there was no indication that these
were threatening or otherwise harmful visits. All the returnees
appeared in good physical condition.

More than half of the interviewed returnees reported that they had
received rice, gasoline, salt, kerosene or other essential goods
after returning. It appears that this assistance was part of a
larger program for ethnic minorities in the area and not
specifically targeted to assist the returnees' reintegration.

End Draft Monitoring Report on Visit.


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