Cablegate: Religious Freedom in Gia Lai Provice: Two Steps Forward,

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

1. (SBU) Summary: A reliable contact in the Central Highlands
province of Gia Lai told us October 31 that, overall conditions
for the GVN-recognized Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam
(SECV) in the province continue to improve. Additional churches
have been recognized and new pastors trained. That said, the SECV
continues to struggle at the village level with "remnants of the
old Vietnam" in pockets throughout the province. In the most
serious incident, in mid-September, local officials in Chu Prong
district reportedly badly beat two ethnic minority believers and
ordered one community of 240 worshipers not to practice their
faith. Despite the incident Kim remains optimistic about the
province's progress on religious freedom issues. He added that he
has heard no reports of mistreatment of ethnic minority returnees.
Land disputes and lack of economic opportunity continue to inflame
the ethnic minority community. This smoldering resentment led to
a violent clash between ethnic minority individuals and majority
Kinh Vietnamese rubber plantation workers in mid-October. End

2. (SBU) On October 31, PolOff met with Pastor Siu Y Kim (strictly
protect), a member of the national executive board of the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) from Gia Lai to review
religious freedom and human rights issues in the Central Highlands
province. Overall, Kim continues to assess as positive the
progress that the SECV has made in the Gia Lai. The church now
has 29 recognized churches with another four recognition
applications pending with the provincial authorities. The SECV
recently completed a training course for 46 new pastors and is
working with authorities to conduct a second course for new
candidates. In September, the SECV also was allowed to hold a two-
day conference that brought together local leaders from the entire
province. Contact and dialogue with local police and with the
provincial Committee for Religious Affairs is greatly improved.

3. (SBU) Although Kim was pleased with progress, there remained
stubborn pockets of local resistance to expanded religious freedom
in the province. In Gia Lai, there are seven ethnic minority
villages in five districts in which local leaders continue to
suppress Protestant religious practice. For example, in one
village in Chu Se district, local officials reportedly told an
SECV pastor that his is not allowed to operate; villagers also are
prohibited from traveling to a neighboring area to worship. None
of these villages has been a center of ethnic minority separatism,
according to Kim. However, the ethnic minority communities in
these areas are split between Protestants and traditionalists
(animists). Ethnic minority village elders are animists and may
be working with local officials to suppress the spread of
Protestantism, Kim said.

4. (SBU) Kim also reported a serious violation of religious
freedom in Gia Lai's Chu Prong district, where the SECV has 240
believers of the Sanchi and Dao groups, migrants from northern
Vietnam. The SECV had petitioned with local authorities to
approve a "gathering point" for services, but was turned down. In
mid-September, local officials reportedly beat two ethnic Dao
Protestants, who were subsequently hospitalized for five days.
Local officials reportedly also told the SECV followers that they
were not allowed to practice Protestantism. Kim said he was
investigating the incident, but thus far had no idea why these two
northern ethnic minority groups were singled out for treatment
that ran completely against the yearlong positive trend in the
province. Kim added that the SECV has other approved churches in
the area that support ethnic Jarai and Kinh communities. Kim said
he is working with provincial officials to resolve the issue and
asked us to hold off on raising this with government officials
until he can assess what progress he can make on his own. He
noted optimistically that it was provincial police that first
alerted him to the problem.

New Ethnic Minority Land Protest

5. (SBU) Kim observed that while the province is making good
headway on religious freedom issues, land disputes continue to
fester. In mid-October in Duc Co district, ethnic Jarai near the
village of Plei To Den, demonstrated to protest the seizure of
land by state-owned rubber plantations. The demonstration led to
a clash between the ethnic Jarai and ethnic majority Kinh
Vietnamese plantation workers. Some SECV members apparently
participated in the protest, in which two plantation workers died.
The District-level Head of the Party Mass Mobilization Committee,
an ethnic Jarai, reportedly was suspended following the clash,
reportedly because he sought to defend the actions of the
protestors. (According to Kim, that official was so disgusted
with his suspension that he reportedly was contemplating crossing
to Cambodia.) Kim explained that the original tribal lands were
taken over by the rubber plantations, which then employed ethnic
minority individuals as laborers. More recently, ethnic
Vietnamese have filled these jobs, leaving the Jarai without
gainful employment and completely removed from the lands they
consider theirs. There have been periodic quarrels between
indigent Jarai and majority Kinh workers at the plantations.

No/No Reports of Returnee Mistreatment

6. (SBU) Kim observed that land issues and lack of economic
opportunity continues to drive ethnic minority individuals to
cross the border illegally to Cambodia. That said, those
individuals who have returned, voluntarily or involuntarily, under
the Tripartite Agreement with UNHCR have not been mistreated, nor
had he heard of any arrests of ethnic minority returnees.

7. (SBU) Comment: Although Kim is troubled that "remainders of the
past continue to coexist with the new," he is still optimistic
about the prospects for the SECV in the province. He (and
separately we) will seek to work with provincial authorities to
clarify the forced renunciation and beatings allegations involving
ethnic Dao, the first credible report of such an incident we have
seen in Gia Lai in well over a year. Kim's reports of local
clashes between ethnic Jarai and ethnic Vietnamese migrants from
northern Vietnam are a cautionary reminder that smoldering
frictions over land continue to drive ethnic minority unrest even
in the most progressive of Central Highlands provinces. End


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