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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05HOCHIMINHCITY968
2005-09-14 07:27:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Consulate Ho Chi Minh City
Cable title:  

GIA LAI AND DAK LAK PROVINCES ON DIFFERENT PATHS ON

Tags:   PHUM  SOCI  PREL  PGOV  KIRF  VM  ETMIN  HUMANR  RELFREE 
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000968 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: GIA LAI AND DAK LAK PROVINCES ON DIFFERENT PATHS ON
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND VISAS 93

REF: A) HCMC 962 B) HCMC 248 C) HCMC 307 and previous



1. (SBU) Summary: During a visit to Gia Lai Province September 6-
8 to assess the conditions of ethnic minority returnees, Gia Lai
officials enumerated the various steps they are taking to
normalize the status of Protestant churches in the province, in
particular the GVN-recognized Southern Evangelical Church in
Vietnam (SECV). Provincial officials also committed to working
with ConGen to resolve outstanding ethnic minority family
reunification cases (Visas 93). Local leaders of the SECV
confirmed that they are receiving increasingly positive support
from Gia Lai officials, but differences remain -- internally
within the SECV and with Gia Lai officials -- over the total
number of churches the SECV needs in the province. A subsequent
meeting with Dak Lak Province's Director of Public Security
underscored how little progress has been made on religious freedom
and Visas-93 issues there, although both Dak Lak and Gia Lai face
the challenges of ethnic minority socio-economic
disenfranchisement and, among some minorities, separatist
sympathies. Dak Lak's hardliner approach appears to flow from
its hardliner Party Secretary; our contacts see little hope for
improvement unless he is replaced or sidelined during upcoming the
Provincial Party Congress slated for late 2005. End Summary.



2. (SBU) Hanoi Pol/C, HCMC PolOff and RRS NGO liaison visited Gia
Lai September 6-8 to assess the conditions of ethnic minority
returnees from Cambodia (ref A). Provincial and district-level
officials emphasized their commitment to implement Vietnam's new
legal framework on religion and to normalize the activities of
Protestant churches in the province. In a detailed briefing on
the province's approach to religious freedom, Colonel Tran Dinh
Thu, Vice Director of Public Security, said that there are 74,000
Protestants belonging to six denominations. The largest, with
over 90 percent of the province's adherents, is the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV). Thu said that the province
has been working with the SECV's Provincial Representative Board
to recognize its churches under Vietnam's new legal framework on
religion. Provincial officials have been guiding the SECV with
the required paperwork, facilitating the training of new pastors
and expediting the permit process for the construction of new
churches. Thu told us that the province has approved 135 pastors
for training and "within a few days" would have registered 27 SECV
churches representing 200 "meeting points" at which parishioners
had gathered. Until permanent church structures are built, the
province is allowing these churches to meet in homes or other
agreed upon meeting points. (At the end of 2004, Gia Lai Province

had recognized 18 SECV churches.)



3. (SBU) The Vice Director noted that the return of SECV property
expropriated post-1975 is perhaps the thorniest issue yet to be
negotiated between the SECV and the province. The position of the
province is that "non-critical property" and property not
designated for other uses under the province's master development
plan will be returned to the church. In other cases, the province
will try to provide the church with at least partial compensation
in cash or alternative real estate.



4. (SBU) Thu said that the province would continue to facilitate
the operation of the meeting points of hitherto-unrecognized SECV
churches as well as the house churches of other Protestant
denominations. He said that Baptists, Mennonites, Pentecostals
and Seventh Day Adventists have a modest presence in the province,
but appear to be "too small to register." He noted that the most
important aspect is that the province ensures that these groups
have the freedom to practice rather than "the paperwork." We
encouraged Thu to ensure that the province responds favorably to
registration inquiries from other denominations.

The DEGA Church


--------------------------





5. (SBU) Provincial and District-level officials said they remain
concerned over the continuing activity of ethnic minority, "Dega"
separatists in the province. They maintained that following the
1992 disbanding of "FULRO" -- the armed ethnic minority resistance
in the Central Highlands -- Dega activists began using
Protestantism as a vehicle to spread ethnic minority exclusivism
and anti-ethnic Vietnamese sentiment. As detailed ref A, a small
number of the ethnic Jarai returnees from Cambodia expressed
directly their sympathies with the Dega movement; many others
appeared to practice "Dega Protestantism."

Visas-93 in Gia Lai Moving Ahead


--------------------------





6. (SBU) Vice Director of Public Security Thu also told us that he
continues to press the provincial bureaucracy to resolve
outstanding family reunification cases involving ethnic minorities
(Visas-93). Thus far, the province has processed passports for 22
families, involving 78 persons, of which eight families (34
persons) have emigrated. The province is in the process of
issuing another six families (17 persons) passports. We thanked
the Vice Director for working to fulfill the commitment he and
other provincial officials made to the Consul General in March to
quickly resolve outstanding Visas-93 cases.

SECV Confirms Progress


--------------------------





7. (SBU) In a private meeting, the five leaders of the SECV Gia
Lai Representative Board confirmed that local officials are making
a "big effort" to normalize SECV activities in the province. By
the end of September, the SECV anticipates that 27 churches will
be recognized; it hopes to have 36 or 37 recognized by year's end.
This would be nearly as many -- 40 -- as the SECV had at the end
of the war in 1975. The SECV added that over the past 30 years,
the number of its adherents in the province expanded by at least a
factor of ten to the current 86,000.



8. (SBU) The SECV representatives said that while other Protestant
religious denominations have a presence in the province, their
footprint is not large and their membership is unstable. House
churches in the province have been known to shift their
affiliation between different Protestant denominations.



9. (SBU) At the invitation of both the SECV and provincial
government, the U.S. team attended the dedication ceremony for a
newly recognized church for ethnic Jarai adherents, five miles
from the provincial district capital of Pleiku. The ceremony,
which was conducted under tents -- the congregation does not yet
have a permanent church building -- had a revival-like atmosphere
and drew upwards of 1,000 people. In Chu Se District, local
officials also took the team to a large SECV church under
construction. Construction was underwritten by 1,400 ethnic Jarai
from neighboring villages. The principal benefactor was a wealthy
ethnic Jarai coffee grower whose wife is on the local church
council. (The coffee grower's story itself is an interesting
example of the complexities of the Central Highlands; he told us
that his father was killed in action while serving in the Army of
the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). He only had a tenth grade
education. Nonetheless, he was able to have access to ample
government credit through available assistance programs and build
a seemingly prosperous business.)

Difference over numbers


--------------------------





10. (SBU) We told the SECV that provincial officials appeared to
calculate that one SECV church would represent on average eight
"meeting points." Using the figure that of 400 to 440 meeting
points that the SECV had previously provided, this would equate to
50 or 60 churches overall. Separately, other SECV officials told
us that they are using a five-to-one ratio in calculating the
number of churches that the SECV would need in Gia Lai, or roughly
80 to 90 overall. How did the Gia Lai SECV board view these
estimates?



11. (SBU) The SECV representatives acknowledged that there are
unresolved differences of opinion within the SECV and with
provincial leaders over the number of churches needed. The Gia
Lai SECV board estimates that there are 576 villages in the
province in which the SECV has a substantial following. In its
negotiations with the province to facilitate Christmas
celebrations, the SECV and the province agreed that 440 "church
equivalents" would be allowed to hold services. The local SECV
leaders said that, over time, they hope to be allowed to
regularize the status of all these "church equivalents."
However, they have not yet broached this plan with the National
Board of the SECV, let alone the Gia Lai government. For its
part, the National Board of the SECV lists 99 congregations in Gia
Lai. During our meeting, the members of the Gia Lai SECV
Representative Board could not come to an agreement as to what
would be a satisfactory number of churches to be in operation by
the end of 2006, only that they hope to make continued progress
and that they will deal with provincial officials "step-by-step."

Little Progress in Dak Lak


--------------------------





13. (SBU) On September 9, the team met in Dak Lak with Provincial
Director of Public Security Senior Colonel Lu Ngoc Cu and a team
of provincial police officials. We opened the meeting by briefing
the Director on the progress we have seen in Gia Lai on ethnic
minority, religious freedom and Visas 93 issues and inquired why
Dak Lak had been unable to achieve the same results. For example,
Dak Lak has recognized only one SECV church to bring its total to
five, compared to Gia Lai's 27. Similarly, our records show that
none of the 58 families (230 persons) seeking family reunification
have had their passports issued. We offered to provide Cu and
other provincial officials with information and assistance to help
address questions on the Visas 93 process.



14. (SBU) Saying that he spoke in his capacity as a member of the
provincial government, Cu asserted that there is no daylight in
understanding or application of GVN policy, but "FULRO" has taken
advantage of Protestants and thus Dak Lak cannot address issues of
religious freedom as fast as other provinces. Dak Lak still found
it "hard to differentiate" between "good Protestants" and those
that "abuse religion."



15. (SBU) Cu said that Dak Lak would allow churches to operate if
they met four conditions: the congregation must have a system of
legally-approved teachings, a legally-appointed clergy, a legal
place of worship and followers who join the group voluntarily.
The policy of Dak Lak is that if groups have not met all these
conditions, then their followers must worship privately at home.
We told Cu that the practice elsewhere in southern and central
Vietnam appeared significantly different; in accordance with the
Prime Minister's February 2005 Instruction of Protestantism,
worshipers are being allowed to gather in house churches even as
issues of registration and recognition are being worked out.



16. (SBU) Cu's position on Visas 93 was equally tough. He
proclaimed that the province's policy was not to restrict legal
migration and asserted that the province had issued travel
documents to 17 ethnic minority families (93 individuals).
However, many of the Visas-93 candidates were ineligible to
receive travel documents because they: have unpaid debts, were
"involved in disturbances and need to be dealt with according to
the law" or have relatives in the United States that are wanted in
Dak Lak for prosecution. Cu then protested the "unilateral"
ConGen decision to invite potential Visas-93 beneficiaries to HCMC
for interviews with the Refugee and Resettlement Section without
prior "consultation and coordination" with the province. 47
families (188 persons) traveled to HCMC to these interviews. Upon
return to Dak Lak, some of these families sold their houses and
otherwise created ill-will within the local community, Cu
asserted. (Note: RRS records show that Dak Lak has not issued
travel documents to any ethnic minority individual whose sponsor
had been resettled in the United States after fleeing from Dak Lak
to Cambodia. End Note.)



17. (SBU) We told Cu that Visas-93 is a humanitarian program and
that the vast majority of beneficiaries residing in Dak Lak are
women and children. We would welcome additional coordination with
him and other Dak Lak officials that might help expedite their
travel. However, the U.S. Mission on a number of occasions has
already sought the province's input and cooperation without
effect. (For example, per ref b, on March 1, the Ambassador gave
the Dak Lak People's Committee Chairman a list of 15 Visas-93
cases and asked for the province's support in facilitating their
travel to the United States.) With regard to the 47 families who
had recently traveled to HCMC, each one had been given a letter of
introduction explaining the purpose of the visit. This letter
surely must have been shared with local police officials who had
to authorize the travel of the Visas-93 applicants. At the end of
the meeting, Cu and the U.S. team agree to exchange information on
the Visas-93 applications. We also offered to have RRS staff
travel to Dak Lak to brief Cu and other officials on the program.



18. (SBU) Comment: The contrast between Gia Lai and Dak Lak is
increasingly stark. Gia Lai is making clear, measurable progress
with the prospect of more to come on religious freedom and Visas-
93 issues. The same cannot be said thus far of Dak Lak, although
both provinces contend with the same issues of ethnic minority
socio-economic disenfranchisement and Dega nationalism. What is
new in the Central Highlands is that Dak Lak increasingly is
isolated in its hardliner approach to these issues.



19. (SBU) The key difference between the two provinces is
leadership. Within the SECV, Gia Lai's SECV leaders appear to be
much more successful at building a firewall -- at all levels
within the province -- between itself and Dega activists than
their Dak Lak counterparts. Similarly, on the government side,
the more moderate Pham The Dung replaced the hardliner war veteran
Nguyen Vy Ha as People's Committee Chairman of Gia Lai Province,
paving the way for change in policy implementation. Reliable
contacts tell us that the main obstacle in Dak Lak is Provincial
Party Secretary Y Luyen Nia Kdam. According to a party insider,
Kdam, an ethnic Ede, is a third-generation revolutionary who
opposes any relaxation of the tough line the province has adopted.
This contact told us that Kdam could be pushed aside during the
upcoming provincial Party Congress, slated for late Fall 2005.

WINNICK