This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000968
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.