In the year following the turmoil in the highlands, the Vietnamese government made numerous attempts to placate the highlanders, at least on the surface. These public efforts ranged from pledges of assistance by the Vietnamese Red Cross in February 2001 for disadvantaged minority families, to provision of free medical check-ups for 6,000 highlanders in April, to expansion of additional minority language radio broadcasts in May.369 On the one hand, such efforts appeared to acknowledge that genuine grievances existed. On the other, as leaked party documents make clear, the government's official interpretation of the unrest was that it was caused by enemies of the party who used religion as their instrument. With the first anniversary of the demonstrations, government surveillance of highlander villages increased, security measures tightened, and repression of minority Christians intensified.
Internal party documents as well as public statements by Politburo members indicated an awareness that the leadership was out of touch with rural minority communities in the Central Highlands. On February 22, 2001, the state media reported that 10 percent of Gia Lai's administrative officials would be stationed in minority hamlets to resolve conflicts.370 In addition the government established "working teams" composed of government officials in Dak Lak to address public disputes, in particular those related to land and forestry.371 Additional party cadres were dispatched to minority villages in Dak Lak from March 15 to December 15 to "develop production and consolidate social order and security."372
After the February 2001 protests, a succession of high-ranking officials toured the Central Highlands. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited on February 9, followed by Politburo member Pham The Duyet in March, and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and National Police Chief Le Minh Huong in July.
During his March visit, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai attended a three-day conference on socioeconomic development in Buon Ma Thuot, where plans were unveiled for new electricity projects, an agricultural university, and a modern regional hospital. The Prime Minister called on government authorities to address the land problem by allocating unused land to ethnic minority families, and solicit input from grassroots officials to work out new and more effective approaches to the region's development.373
In September 2001, VCP General Secretary Nông Dúc Manh, himself a member of an ethnic minority, made a visit to the region. He urged minority elders and commune chiefs to be vigilant against the efforts of "hostile forces" that he said were seeking to take advantage of the region's temporary socioeconomic difficulties in order to undermine national unity or incite people to flee abroad. In Kontum, Manh urged soldiers to build a "fighting position in the people's hearts" in the Central Highlands.376
Hearts and Minds
Pledges were made to enhance educational opportunities for minorities in the Central Highlands, including the planned expansion of Tay Nguyen University in Buon Ma Thuot, announced in May. In August, Gia Lai authorities donated 30,000 dong (U.S. $2) per student per month and "ethnic costumes" to 2,000 ethnic minority boarding school students, on top of previous monthly allowances of 120,000 dong (U.S. $9). Similar assistance was provided in Dak Lak.381 Plans were also announced in August for a pilot bilingual education program in Ede for third graders in forty-five schools in Dak Lak during the 2001-02 school years.382
Throughout 2001 the party convened a number of meetings in the highlands for provincial administrators, party cadres and leaders of the mass organizations, such as for youth and women. The aim was to discuss economic development in the highlands, national security, and political education, and to instruct cadres, including minority cadres, in the party line. As the first anniversary of the protests neared in January 2002, the government convened a three-day meeting in Buon Ma Thuot to implement a Politburo Resolution linking socioeconomic development with national defence and maintenance of security in the Central Highlands.383
In June 2001, the Vietnamese Communist Party issued an internal advisory, specifically directing party cadre how to interpret the ethnic unrest in the Central Highlands. The twenty-two page document, a copy of which was obtained by Human Rights Watch, carries the official seal of the VCP and is entitled "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses and the Traditional Life, the Revolution, and the Solidarity among all Ethnic Peoples and Oppose the Forces who are Active in Order to Destroy the Progressive Forces and the Protection of our Fatherland, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."
The document analyzes the 2001 uprising and its purported relationship to the Protestant movement:
The advisory mentions the government's recognition in February 2001 of the Evangelical Church of the South but states that full participation of Protestant churches in the highlands will have to be a step-by-step process, especially given the political instability in the region and the intentions of "bad elements" who were exploiting religion to oppose the revolution:
Tin Lanh Dega, or "Dega Protestantism," is described as targeting minority Protestants to isolate them from mainstream society and lure them into political activities in order to demand an independent state. "Artificial" demands for land and the right to freedom of religion are said to be part of an overall strategy to destabilize society and carry out uprisings against the revolution:
It is clear that the emergence of political activism in the highlands calling not only for independence, but also for land and religious rights, touched a sensitive nerve. The advisory charges that the party's enemies are working to "encourage and spread discontent among our minorities to act illegally to demand land" and to oppose state policies in regard to family planning, migration, and the building of socialist culture. These "hostile forces" are held to be challenging government policies that encourage the development of New Economic Zones and migration by other population groups to more equally distribute the population:
The June 2001 advisory charges that both FULRO and the United States-which is identified as the main culprit in bringing Christianity to the highlands-have created much of the problem in the Central Highlands, by "forming a human resource to oppose the Socialist government" and inciting the people to rebel.
369 Viet Nam News Agency (VNA), "Red Cross Association grants aid to disadvantaged people," February 8, 2001. Nhan Dan (The People), "Free treatment for Dak Lak ethnic people," April 16, 2001. Agence France-Presse, "Vietnam to boost minority language broadcasts in face of ethnic unrest," May 1, 2001.
370 Reuters, "Vietnam to hear complaints in protest-hit highlands," February 22, 2001. Agence France-Presse, "Vietnam authorities to pour in more cadres to calm restive highlands," February 22, 2001.
371 The teams were to focus on the districts of Krong Buc, Ea H'leo, Cu M'gar, Ea Kar, Krong Pach, and Krong Bong in Buon Ma Thuot city. Voice of Vietnam Radio, Hanoi, "Dac Lac province sets up extra teams to settle complaints," February 22, 2001, translated by BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific-Political, February 23, 2001.
372 Nhan Dan (The People), March 13, 2001, cited in a report by the UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.
373 Vietnam News Agency, "PM Khai Pledges to Raise Central Highlands' Living Standards to National Average," July 14, 2001.
374 Nhan Dan (The People), August 13, 2001, cited in a report by the UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.
375 Associated Press, "Vietnam Gives Unused Land to Central Highlands Minorities," October 26, 2001.
376 Vietnam News, "Ethnic chiefs have key role for unity: Party leader," September 13, 2001. Reuters, "Vietnam party chief visits troubled highlands," September 15, 2001.
377 Associated Press, "Vietnam launches major law-awareness campaign in restive Central Highlands," April 17, 2001. Associated Press, "Top Vietnamese ideology officials discuss how to win support from minority groups in Central Highlands," September 7, 2001.
378 UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.
379 Associated Press, "Vietnam launches major law-awareness campaign in restive Central Highlands," April 17, 2001.
380 Agence France-Presse, "Vietnam to boost minority language broadcasts in face of ethnic unrest," May 1, 2001.
381 Voice of Vietnam, "Efforts made to enroll more ethnic students in school," August 31, 2001. Vietnam News Service, "Parents Dig Deep for the School Year," August 2001.
382 Viet Nam News Agency (VNA), "Ede Minority Group Language to be Taught in Dac Lac Central Highlands Province," August 21, 2001.
383 Nhan Dan (The People), "Central Highlands development, unity, security discussed," January 24, 2002.
384 Confidential VCP Advisory, "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses and the Traditional Life, the Revolution, and the Solidarity among all Ethnic Peoples and Oppose the Forces who are Active in Order to Destroy the Progressive Forces and the Protection of our Fatherland, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," June 2001. Vietnamese-language document and translation on file at Human Rights Watch.
385 Confidential VCP Advisory, "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses...," June 2001.
386 Accusations that unauthorized religious groups-such as the banned Unified Church of Vietnam-misuse religion to oppose the government have been a common refrain from the VCP for years.
387 Confidential VCP Advisory, "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses...," June 2001.