Cablegate: Claims of Church Closures and Beatings in Central

Published: Thu 18 Mar 2004 09:21 AM
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: A) HCMC 0084 B) HANOI 0712 C) HCMC 0279
1. (U) Summary: Protestant sources reported that while the
overall religious situation in the Central Highlands was still
showing signs of improvement, as evidenced by six new ordinations,
additional cases of house church closures, destruction of church
properties, and arrests and beatings of those involved in the
ethnic unrest of 2001 had surfaced since ConGenoffs' last trip to
the region in January 2004 (ref A). These sources also described
several incidents of alleged discrimination against the
predominantly Protestant Ja Rai (Gia Rai) ethnic minority people.
End summary.
2. (SBU) Consul General and Poloff met with Pastor Siu Y Kim
(protect), a member of the Representative Board of the Vietnamese
Government-recognized Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam
(SECV) in Gia Lai province, and his brother Siu Ya Kop (protect),
a HCMC-based medical doctor, for two hours at the ConGen on March
16, 2004. The two are long-time contacts of the ConGen and are
generally reliable on subjects (good or bad) where they have
personal knowledge.
3. (SBU) Pastor Kim confirmed that the ordination of six new SECV
pastors and four new lay pastors had taken place as planned in Gia
Lai Province on March 9, 2004 (ref B). He brought photos of the
ceremony, which took place at his house. He also reported that
the chairman of Gia Lai's Chu Se District People's Committee had
agreed to meet with him later in the week to discuss land for a
new church. Pastor Kim indicated that past land discussions with
provincial officials had not proven productive, but he still was
hopeful. While new church registrations and ordinations were
welcome news, he believed the GVN was still reluctant to allow the
construction of real churches in Gia Lai. He said provincial
authorities had already rejected his request for the return of
confiscated properties.
4. (SBU) Without giving an exact time frame, Pastor Kim noted that
two pre-1975 Christian and Missionary Alliance properties in Gia
Lai had recently been damaged or destroyed. One had already been
replaced with a kindergarten. He believes provincial authorities
have done this to avoid having to return the properties to the
SECV. He referred to Official Letter #783, regarding religious
properties -- he does not expect to recover church buildings, but
at least hopes for compensation. (Note: The CMA is the only
Protestant denomination recognized by the GVN at this time. Many
CMA churches have chosen not to register with the SECV, however,
and operate as underground house churches, often with the tacit
approval of local authorities. End note.) According to Pastor
Kim, the Gia Lai SECV Representative Board and the HCMC-based SECV
Executive Board had both sent protest letters to the provincial
authorities, but had yet to receive a response. Pastor Kim had
also learned of three house churches in Sa Tay District, Kon Tum
Province, which were reportedly shut down between January and
March 2004. He noted that these three congregations were not among
the 13 CMA house churches that Kon Tum officials tacitly allow to
5. (SBU) Pastor Kim also discussed ongoing refugee problems in Gia
Lai. He noted that three ethnic minority men (Ama Suon and Y Lut
were the two names he remembered), who had reportedly been hiding
in the jungle since the ethnic unrest of 2001, had been captured
by police in February and beaten. Police had detained the three
after learning they had returned returned from the jungle. They
were discovered hiding under the floorboards of their homes.
According to Pastor Kim's sources, one person had died while in
police custody. His family members said the body had exhibited
signs of head trauma when it was returned by the police. The
other two individuals reportedly died a few days after police
released them from custody and returned them to their villages.
Villagers noted that these two persons were in "bad shape" when
they returned. Authorities claimed they had been ill. Pastor Kim
dismissed the idea that they might have been suffering the effects
of living in the jungle, noting local villagers took good care of
those in hiding. (He believes approximately 50 persons remain in
the jungle.) As an aside, he mentioned that the police had also
confiscated "lots of" cellular telephones when they arrested these
three persons.
6. (SBU) Related to ongoing refugee problems, Pastor Kim described
the problems faced by several families petitioned as Visas 93
following-to-join cases by relatives who had resettled in the U.S.
via Cambodia in 2001 and 2002. Two families had been charged 2.5
million Vietnamese dong (about USD$160 dollars) by local
authorities for official copies of birth certificates. Three
other families have been unable to obtain passports, including a
member of one of his Protestant congregations, Ms. R'Mah H'Ri. He
stated quite emphatically that he believed she would never receive
a passport (Ref C provides update on R'Mah H'Ri's departure for
the U.S.) Pastor Kim noted that government officials were
becoming more sophisticated. He said he had heard stories of
other families facing similar problems, but could not offer
specifics. In a response to a question, he said he could only say
for certain that this practice had occurred in Gia Lai Province.
Pastor Kim noted that government officials were becoming more
sophisticated. Nothing is put in writing; promises, threats, or
insinuations are all just spoken.
7. (SBU) Pastor Kim recounted several recent land-use disputes
involving ethnic minority Ja Rai and majority Vietnamese Kinh in
Gia Lai Province in recent months. He said the government had
taken ethnic minority lands for public use under a provincial
"master plan," without paying fair compensation. He acknowledged,
however, that the "landowners" did not have official deeds or
leases for their properties, holding them instead as "traditional"
homesteads. One farmer, R'Hlan Yen, in Plei Tu village, Ea Kar
District, reportedly had his land seized to build a stadium, while
another farmer, Siu Den, fled his village to escape a nine-month
prison sentence on charges of illegal deforestation. Pastor Kim
spoke at length about an incident in late January 2004, where the
ethnic minority residents of Plei Su and other villages verbally
squared off at least three times with the management of rubber
plantations in Duc Co, Chu Prong and Chu Se Districts. The
villagers had reportedly given their traditional lands to the
plantations in exchange for employment, but were later fired and
replaced by ethnic Vietnamese Kinh brought down from the north.
The villagers engaged in several heated verbal confrontations with
management, before the provincial People's Committee also became
involved. Pastor Kim noted that each confrontation had ended with
some sort of oral agreement, but the management had yet to follow
through on its promises to restore jobs or pay adequate
compensation. Nonetheless, he regarded these three meetings as
"victories" for the common people.
8. (SBU) Comment: Pastor Kim and his brother acknowledged that
much of their information was based on second or thirdhand
reports. Pastor Kim blamed government surveillance and
restrictions on travel for his inability to get out and verify
some of these claims. As a result, he often made vague statements
or lacked details when he made a specific allegation. At one
point, he painted a dark picture of ethnic minority Christians
being fired from jobs and expelled from school. These are
accusations we have heard from other sources periodically over the
past two years, and each time the GVN official or schoolmaster --
or sometimes even another pastor -- denies them. Asked to
elaborate, Pastor Kim said the government's plan was to
discriminate against Protestants until they got tired of the
pressure and just gave up and resigned their jobs or left school.
9. (SBU) Comment (cont): That said, Pastor Kim is one of our best
contacts. He is sincere in his approach to working with the
government as a legal SECV pastor on the one hand, while
maintaining his leadership of the mostly ethnic Ja Rai (Gia Rai)
house churches. Pastor Kim noted that he did not want to be like
some of the Mennonite leaders currently operating in the country,
who intentionally try to provoke the GVN in the Central Highlands.
Still, the bigger issue is whether the discrimination alleged to
be religious in nature is in fact really traditional ethnic
discrimination entangled with ownership disputes over tribal
lands. Many Ja Rai are Christian, but a sizable minority are not.
Pastor Kim's assertion that the oppression is worse for the
Christian Ja Rai in Gia Lai Province should be evaluated in the
context of the general poverty and politico-economic backwardness
of the Central Highlands.
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