202. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2991. For the President. The past week was relatively quiet on the internal political front. Quat announced his government’s short-term program on March 12, covering the five problem areas of security, foreign affairs, “building of democracy”, economic and social development, and education and youth. Shrewdly enough, Quat has included some items in his program on which he can already show progress, such as the abolition of certain miscellaneous taxes affecting lower income groups and the convening in Saigon of a conference of Vietnamese diplomatic mission chiefs.
During the week, the government also announced that it was investigating one of the peace groups which appeared a week or so ago and that three of the leaders would be turned over to General Thi for “deportation beyond the 17th parallel.” Shortly thereafter, Thi announced that he proposed to strap parachutes on them and drop them beyond the 17th parallel, but Quat quickly put a hold order on this proceeding. Indications now are that the culprits will be expelled by more prosaic means on the ground.
It is worth noting that Quat is deliberately keeping himself in the public view. In the period of a few days he has held a well-publicized reception for “out” politicians, met both with the National Legislative Council and the press on his government’s program, has appeared with his diplomatic mission chiefs now convened in Saigon, has given a television interview to the three major U.S. networks, and has presided over the inauguration of a conference of province chiefs and other representatives. This is all to the good.
The Buddhist Institute continues to twist, turn and exhibit signs of uncertain direction. Shortly after Thich Quang Lien issued his peace proclamation last week, the Buddhist Institute issued a communiqué which seemed directed at pressuring Quang Lien into abandoning his peace movement. At about the same time, Quang Lien handed us his letter to you on which we have reported separately,2 an action indicating that he is not yet prepared to drop his peace plans. Clearly, the Buddhist Institute is not wholly together on the issue of peace activities and the serious Institute leaders are wrangling over them. Hence, we are withholding comment for the moment on how to respond to Lien—if at all.[Page 452]
I spent Tuesday, March 16, visiting key points in the II Corps where we have been particularly concerned over the declining military situation and the growing refugee problem. I would say that the military situation is looking up somewhat but that the refugee problem is very serious. General Co, commanding II Corps and his division commanders are regaining confidence after a week which included a number of local military successes over the Viet Cong. However, the Viet Cong pressure on the civil population of the I and II Corps over recent months has caused some 160,000 men, women and children to leave their homes in the hills and the piedmont to take refuge in the towns of the coastal plain. They are living huddled in temporary camps, not hungry but unhappy in the squalid dullness of their lives and the uncertainty of their future. The U.S. Mission and the government are fully alive to the problem and are formulating specific actions and recommendations.
With the growing pressure on North Viet-Nam, the psychological atmosphere continues to be favorable. What is still missing in this new atmosphere is the image of a Vietnamese Government giving direction and purpose to its people. As noted above, Quat is begining to pick up speed, but he can not yet be said to have established communication with the Vietnamese people. However, it is too early to say that he may not with time. We will keep pressing.