Cablegate: Ambassador Visits Mia Recovery Site; Meets With

Published: Wed 10 Nov 2004 10:42 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
SUBJECT: Ambassador Visits MIA Recovery Site; Meets with
Provincial Officials
1. (U) Summary: The Ambassador traveled to Nghe An and Ha
Tinh Provinces in northern central Vietnam November 4-5 to
visit a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) operational
recovery site and to observe the turnover of remains
believed to be those of an American serviceman lost during
the Vietnam conflict. The Ambassador also took the
opportunity to meet with senior provincial officials to
raise concerns about religious freedom and HIV/AIDS. In a
separate meeting, he discussed education exchanges with the
Vinh University president. End Summary.
2. (U) On November 4, the Ambassador visited the 79th
Joint Field Activities site in Que Phong district of Nghe An
Province where combined U.S.-Vietnam teams are working to
recover the remains of an American serviceman lost during
the Vietnam conflict. Lieutenant Colonel Lentfort Mitchell,
Commander of Detachment Two, JPAC, Mr. Pham Van Que,
Director of the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons
(VNOSMP) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reporters
from the Boston Globe and San Jose Mercury News, a JPAC
Public Affairs Officer, and Embassy's Assistant Public
Affairs Officer accompanied the Ambassador. Upon arrival at
the site via an MI-17 helicopter, the Ambassador met with
the site team leader, Major Myrtith Brown, and other members
of the team, including a forensic anthropologist. Major
Brown described the ongoing recovery operations, which,
while not conclusive, are proceeding very well, and
highlighted the excellent cooperation his team has received
from VNOSMP officials and local villagers.
3. (U) During a courtesy call on Mr. Hoang Ky, Vice
Chairman of the Nghe An Provincial People's Committee, the
Ambassador thanked provincial officials for their support of
JPAC's ongoing efforts and asked for additional cooperation
as JPAC continues the difficult work of investigating,
surveying and excavating other cases in the area. Ky
responded that the people of Vietnam understand the tragedy
of losing loved ones during the war and are completely
sympathetic and ready to help with the recovery of the
remains of U.S. MIA/POW soldiers.
4. (U) Vice Chairman Ky asked the Ambassador to encourage
U.S. investors to consider Nghe An. He said the province is
growing rapidly, following the expansion of the Vinh airport
and improvements to the Route One Highway and the railroad.
Noting that Nghe An is competing with Ho Chi Minh City and
other more prosperous areas, the Ambassador urged the
provincial government to improve regulatory transparency,
rule of law and operating conditions as incentives to
attract investors.
5. (U) Ky added that Nghe An Province, with Laos along its
border, is waging a campaign against drugs and suffers from
one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country. The
Ambassador noted that the U.S. Government (USG) is providing
USD 25 million this year to the GVN to combat HIV/AIDS and
will be identifying areas of need as it expands its
assistance outside the areas with the highest prevalence of
the disease.
6. (U) The Ambassador also took the opportunity to
underscore the significance of religious freedom as the
region develops, referencing in particular implementing
regulations for the new ordinance on religion scheduled to
go into effect on November 15. He cautioned that reports of
forced denouncements of faith and interference in religious
practice in some areas of Vietnam hurt our mutual efforts in
building our bilateral relationship. While no such reports
have come to light in Nghe An, the Ambassador urged Ky to
foster an environment conducive to the free practice of
religion, the building of more churches, and permission for
more priests and ministers to be ordained.
7. (U) On November 5, the Ambassador observed the handover
of remains believed to be those of an American serviceman
missing in Ha Tinh Province. Mr. Tran Van Lam, Vice
Chairman of the Ha Tinh Provincial Foreign Relations
Committee, welcomed the Ambassador and observed the handover
along with several dozen local villagers.
8. (U) The Ambassador reiterated his message regarding
MIAs, the economy, HIV/AIDS and religious freedom when he
met with Vice Chairman Le Van Chat of the Ha Tinh Provincial
People's Committee. Chat urged the Ambassador to pay
special attention to Agent Orange during his tenure in
Vietnam. The Ambassador responded that our two governments
have been cooperating to design and implement projects to
improve our scientific understanding of this issue. The USG
has contributed more than USD four million to support these
efforts. In the meantime, the USG continues to contribute
to efforts to help those in need, including individuals with
a wide range of disabilities in Vietnam.
9. (U) During his stay in Vinh, the Ambassador met with
the Vinh University rector, Dr. Nguyen Dinh Huan. The
Ambassador urged the university to nominate more qualified
candidates for various scholarship programs, including the
Fulbright and Humphreys, as well as the International
Visitors program. Dr. Huan mentioned that his
multidisciplinary university would be celebrating its 45th
anniversary in ten days and is on track to expanding its
exposure to international higher education. The university
has worked with the Ford Foundation and various other NGO's
to recruit volunteer English teachers as it works to develop
its English language program. The Ambassador pledged that
the Embassy's Public Affairs Section would look for
opportunities to raise the profile of Vinh University and to
engage in outreach activities in Vinh.
10. (U) Comment: The northern central provinces of Nghe An
and Ha Tinh are suffering from drought. Vinh City, the
capital of Nghe An Province, and surrounding areas were
heavily bombed by American forces during the war. Nghe An
remains one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam (per capita
GDP of USD 250) with a modest claim to fame as the
birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. This visit confirmed that JPAC's
MIA/POW remains recovery activities are making progress,
based on good cooperation from local officials and villagers
as well as the VNSOMP office in Hanoi. Officials in both
provinces complained of being isolated and neglected by
foreign assistance groups and educational foundations
(reaching Nghe An takes six hours by car and four hours by
train from Hanoi with few direct commercial flights). There
is a definite need in northern central Vietnam for public
affairs outreach in addition to assistance programs in drug
enforcement and HIV/AIDS that Post will make efforts to
address. End comment.
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