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Cablegate: Tight Lipped Deportees in Gia Lai

DE RUEHHM #0880/01 2390307
P 270307Z AUG 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1.(SBU) Summary: During their August 13-15 visit to the Central
Highland province of Gia Lai, HRS Chief and Poloff spoke with
four individuals, including two heads of household, from the
Jarai ethnic minority who had been repatriated to Vietnam in
January after failing to obtain refugee status in Cambodia. A
planned visit with another family on the 14th proved impossible
because they had "doubled back" in April. The visit accounted
for thirteen of the 34 individuals repatriated this year. All
of those we met were extremely poor and none indicated that they
had fled to Cambodia to escape persecution of any kind. One
said that police had hit him three or four times during an
interrogation after he returned to Vietnam. None of the other
three indicated that they had been abused by authorities in any
way before they left or after they returned, but for unknown
reasons, they appeared reluctant to provide much information.
Two said that they had received GVN assistance since their
return. We will need to make more monitoring visits to the area
before we can determine whether there are any trends underlying
the circumstances of these returnees and others like them. The
USG strategy of monitoring closely events in the Highlands,
combined with encouraging more foreign access to, and
stimulating education and economic opportunities for, ethnic
minority communities remain key to minimizing whatever problems
may exist and to improving the lives of these individuals. End

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2. (U) As part of a longer trip to Gia Lai (septel), HRS Chief
and Poloff traveled to Ia Grai and Duc Co districts to monitor
the conditions of thirteen Jarai individuals repatriated in
January from Cambodia under the Tri-Partite Agreement between
UNHCR, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Seven in Ia Grai were voluntary
returnees and lived within 150 meters of each other in Bi
hamlet, Ia O village. They had arrived in Phnom Penh on
September 2, 2006, and voluntarily repatriated together on
January 12 of this year. Before going to Bi hamlet, ConGenoffs
spoke to District People's Committee Chairman Bui Ngoc Son. Son
informed us that one family we intended to visit had returned to
Cambodia on April 8. He also said that there were other
returnees from Ia Grai who had doubled back to Cambodia
including some who originally had left in 2005.

The Voluntary Returnee and the "Double Backers"
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) In Bi hamlet, we met with returnee Siu Blol and several
members of his family. Originally Blol and two of his sons
(Ksor Heunh and Ksor Lan, see below) had gone to Cambodia
together with neighbor Rolan Loc and three of Loc's sons.
Subsequently, both families voluntarily returned to Vietnam. In
April, son Ksor Heunh (DOB 07 April 1989) accompanied the Rolan
Loc family when they returned to Cambodia. Also joining the
group was yet another of Blol's sons -- Ksor Huon (DOB 18 August
1982) -- who had not accompanied his father on the previous
trip. Meanwhile, Ksor Lan, the other brother who had originally
gone with Blol to and from Cambodia, reportedly was still in Bi
village, although not living in his father's house. Blol said
that he did not know why sons Heunh and Huon had gone to
Cambodia, nor did he know why Rolan Loc had doubled back.
However, Blol added that the only reason Heunh had returned
voluntarily the first time was because of his own decision to do

4. (SBU) Despite being asked several times, Blol did not provide
any clear reason for going to Cambodia in the first place. Nor
did he explain why he volunteered to repatriate after four
months. He said that he was not religious, but that he had
followed "Protestants" to Cambodia. He had not been afraid of
GVN officials before he left, but after he arrived in Cambodia
he was afraid that he would be under surveillance if he went

5. (SBU) Blol had lived in Cambodia prior to 1978 when he fled
the Khmer Rouge. He had no education because there were no
schools where he lived in Cambodia. We spoke directly with Blol
in Vietnamese with two village elders occasionally interjecting
in mixed Vietnamese and Jarai. Blol was initially rather
guarded in his responses, but then opened up. He has about four
hectares of titled land on which he cultivates cashews and
cassava. The cashew trees are three or four years old; his farm
income amounts to about USD 250 per year. He has seven
children, one in Seventh grade and another in Fifth. Double
backer son Heunh completed Fifth grade, but returned son Lan
"cannot stand school."

6. (SBU) Blol reported that he had not received any assistance
from the government before or after he went to Cambodia. We
asked him specifically about the various GVN programs for ethnic
minorities, but he repeated that he had not received any help.
Two local elders disputed that, saying, "Don't you remember?

HO CHI MIN 00000880 002 OF 004

Yes, you have received help." Blol was adamant and the elders
gave up.

7. (SBU) Although he initially had little to say about his
treatment after returning, when asked what he wanted to tell us,
Blol volunteered that district-level police had hit him three or
four times on the hands and ears during an interrogation in
April. He also said that police had questioned him once since
then at the local police station and another time at a border
post. (Note: All of these were around the time that Rolan Loc
and two of Blol's sons went to Cambodia, although Blol did not
make a link. Blol's village is about two hours walk from the
Cambodian border. The district center is farther inside Vietnam
and there are two "border" posts between the two places. End
note.) He was questioned all three times about why he left
Vietnam. He said that police were frustrated with his vague
responses, so they hit him. Blol's account of this was very
matter-of-fact and he did not appear to be particularly upset
about it. Village elders had no reaction to this.

8. (SBU) HRS staff overheard a local official asking villagers
how the double backers returned to Cambodia. According to the
response, they had crossed the border from Tay Ninh province,
south of the Central Highlands.

9. (SBU) Blol expressed concern for his two sons in Cambodia and
asked us to pass a message to them: "The GVN does not do
anything to you when you return." He wondered how they could
come back to Vietnam.

10. (SBU) Blol did not appear to be afraid of ill-treatment, but
he was also skeptical of the GVN and appeared to prefer
independence to receiving assistance from the government.

Two Young Deportees

11. (SBU) On January 22, 2007, eight deportees were returned to
Vietnam from Cambodia, most of them from Duc Co district in Gia
Lai. Two relatively young deportees, Rmah Phyeo and Rocham
Chinh (aka Rocham Jinh), were from Ba hamlet, Ia Pnon village.
We visited both at their homes on the afternoon of August 14.

12. (SBU) Arriving at the family home Rmah Phyeo shares with her
parents and siblings, we found her sitting inside an internal
doorway with her mother between her and everyone else. She
would scarcely look at any of the visitors and eventually sat
with her face turned away and covered by her hand. She
acknowledged her name and that she had been in Cambodia, but
said nothing else audible to us. After several failed attempts
to make her more comfortable, we left her alone and talked to
her father. Our primary impression, based on demeanor evidence,
was that she was extremely embarrassed and too ashamed to talk
to us. She would not say why she would not speak with us, nor
would she answer any other questions. Her parents, on the other
hand, appeared relaxed, and were willing to speak with us.

13. (SBU) While Poloff engaged the local elders, Refcoord spoke
with Rmah Phyeo's father. He would not comment on why his
daughter would not speak to us. He said that police had visited
Rmah Phyeo two or three times after she returned to ask why she
had gone to Cambodia. According to her father, she had simply
followed some other people and did not have a clear motive. Of
his three children, she was the only one with an education,
having completed Fourth grade. She and her siblings, along with
their grandparents, are Catholic, attending services at a house
in Ba hamlet on Saturday and Sunday. Her father had served a
tour in the Vietnamese army from 1978. The family has a farm of
0.8 hectares, upon which they grow cassava. They had not
received any particular government assistance since her return
from Cambodia. Both Rmah Phyeo and her father understood and
spoke Vietnamese. They have no family members overseas.

14. (SBU) When asked about living conditions in Ba, the hamlet
chief spoke at length about the local rubber plantation. In
1997, more than 30 local families had transferred their titled
land to the then-new rubber plantation. They did not receive
any compensation for their land, but they were given jobs
clearing the land and planting and caring for the trees.
However, when the plantation began harvesting, many of them were
told that they were not "suitable" and were replaced by
"Northerners." Although some native residents still work on the
plantation, the hamlet chief complained that their pay is docked
if they missed a day or two of work. He said that they had
complained to officials up to the district level about losing
their land. There has never been a response to their
complaints. The chief admitted that living conditions had
improved in many respects since the plantation arrived. There
were more services and the company provided food aid.

HO CHI MIN 00000880 003 OF 004

15. (SBU) Rocham Chinh is apparently known as "Jin" or "Jinh" in
Ba Hamlet and so local officials were not certain he was the
person we sought to interview. However, based on his age and
the time when he was in Cambodia, it appears that the two are
the same. We spoke to him outside his home with hamlet elders,
local officials, and an elderly female relative in view, but out
of earshot for at least part of the conversation. We had to
remind local officials that the interview was supposed to be
private. Rocham Jin's demeanor exhibited discomfort, perhaps
considerable embarrassment, and possibly fear. We do not know
why he was so uncomfortable. He speaks and understands
Vietnamese, although he has had no education. His family has no
land and his father is deceased. His concept of time seemed
very vague. He said that he had become a Protestant about a
year ago, but he was not able to tell us if that was before,
during, or after his time in Cambodia. He was not able to
clearly answer when he had returned from Cambodia. He would not
answer why he went to Cambodia or what he hoped would happen
when he got there. He said that he was not afraid to answer our
questions, but most of his answers were, "I do not know," spoken
in an almost inaudible voice.

16. (SBU) "I do not know" was also his answer to whether he had
received assistance from the GVN after his return. Village
elders told us that he and his mother had received a loan to
build a house and pointed out the new, but small, concrete
walled and tin roofed building Rocham Jin had been inside before
we arrived. The family had also reportedly received a cow. He
did not provide a meaningful answer to whether anything had
happened to him since his return to Cambodia.

A Family Dispute

17. (SBU) Rmah Su and his family, of Bon hamlet, Ia Tuk village
were the final returnees we met. He, his wife, and two children
were deported in January after spending about a year in
Cambodia. He spoke with us in Vietnamese outside of his house
with a village elder nearby and local officials visible, but out
of earshot. His wife and children were also present. Rmah Su
described himself as a farmer with about 0.8 hectares of land
planted in cashews. He earns about 600,000 VND (USD 38) a year
from these and makes most of his income working as a day laborer
for an ethnic majority Kinh resident of the hamlet. He
completed Fifth grade; his wife has had no education. He said
he expected their oldest child to begin First grade in
September. The school is a few minutes walk away.

18. (SBU) Rmah Su said he joined other people who left the
village after he had a dispute with his siblings over land.
They told him to leave. He said he had not been mistreated by
the authorities before or after he went to Cambodia. He has a
younger sister overseas, but he does not know in which country.
Her husband left first and then sponsored her to join him. Rmah
Su did not appear to know any other details about how his sister
left. He was religious before he was married, but ceased
practicing when he moved to Bon hamlet. (Note: Customarily
when Jarai marry, the new husband moves to his wife's community.
End note.) His wife was not then, and is not now, religious.

19. (SBU) Since returning to Vietnam, Rmah Su said that the
government had treated him "alright." He initially said that he
had not received any assistance since his return, but the
village elder remarked that Rmah Su had received a loan for 8
million VND ($500) to build a new house and drill a well. At
the time of our visit, the well was complete and bricks for the
new house were piled in front of the tin shack he had built
eight years earlier when newly married.

20. (SBU) While Rmah Su was a good deal more communicative than
Rmah Phyeo and Rocham Jin, his answers to our questions were
terse and his demeanor suggested that he was uncomfortable in
our presence. Follow-up questions were necessary to learn more
than basic information about his situation.


21. (SBU) We do not know why the deportees we met on this trip
were so ill at ease and unwilling to speak with us. Previous
experience suggests that returnees, especially deportees, may be
ashamed and embarrassed within their communities because they
either did not succeed in their goal of being resettled or were
"fooled" by those who convinced them to cross the border. A
monitoring visit can remind them of that shame. The contrasting
behavior of Rmah Phyeo and her parents fits this hypothesis.
Similarly, while Rmah Su was not enthusiastic about speaking
with us, his wife did not appear tense. Siu Blol was among the

HO CHI MIN 00000880 004 OF 004

more outspoken returnees we have visited, but he returned
voluntarily, is more mature, and was in Cambodia for only about
four months. Local officials sometimes play up the shame theme,
although they did not mention it on this trip. We approached
this explanation skeptically, but have come to believe it is a
valid factor.

22. (SBU) Many things could account for the reticence of this
set of deportees, but their very unwillingness to speak to us
makes it difficult to understand their situations. There is
little that can be ruled out. Our current policy of more
monitoring trips, encouraging more foreign access to the Central
Highlands, and the stimulation of education and economic
opportunities for ethnic minority communities remain key to
minimizing whatever problems may exist in the area and to
improving the lives of these individuals. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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