- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Voice of America undermined by cuts

Our union, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, represents the employees of the Voice of America. And on behalf of our members, I commend The Washington Times for its Jan. 31 editorial, "Voiceless America." I would like to respond to the letters to the editor that VOA Director Sanford J. Ungar and the Broadcasting Board of Governors wrote in response to the editorial ("Voice of America adapts to a changing world," Feb. 2).

During Mr. Ungar's 19-month tenure as VOA director, he has presided over two rounds of mass firings, which have resulted in the drastic reduction or outright elimination of 15 language services. Last year saw the decimation of our East European Division. Now, that process continues with VOA Armenian, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Slovak, Thai, Turkish and Uzbek being dramatically cut or taken off the air completely.

Mr. Ungar and the Broadcasting Board of Governors often portray the Voice of America as a relic of the Cold War. To the contrary, VOA was established at the beginning of World War II, and the need for America to tell its story to the world continues into the 21st century. Mr. Ungar states he is proud that under his watch, "VOA has increasingly become a modern multimedia organization." But unfortunately for the tens of millions of people who depend on VOA as a objective and comprehensive source of news and information, America's voice is rapidly being silenced.

The Board of Governors' move to abandon our audiences in strategically critical areas is based at least in part on the mistaken belief that people around the world have easy and inexpensive access to the Internet. This is far from the case and will be so for years to come. According to a recent report by the International Labor Organization, only 5 percent of the world has ever even logged on to the Internet located primarily in the United States and Western Europe.

Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Romania, with a newly-elected "former communist" president. Yet under the board's plan, VOA Romanian will have virtually no impact, due to the high cost of Internet access. Audiences in democratically emerging Slovakia repeatedly tell us they want to hear about American government and institutions and how to make a free market work. But the board wants to gut our Slovak broadcasts. The board says VOA should let our Uzbek listeners listen to Russian the language of their former occupiers and of the repressive Uzbek regime. VOA Greek and Kurdish are heard in Turkey. Yet the Board of Governors, for all practical purposes, wants to eliminate our Turkish programming. VOA Greek is heard in the Greek sector of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots want VOA to remain on-the-air.

The then-Democratic-controlled Board of Governors claims to have consulted with the directors of the affected language services regarding their "reorganization." We have reason to doubt this. Similarly, Mr. Ungar has repeatedly told VOA staffers that the board "believes that it consulted the State Department." The Broadcasting Board of Governors desperately needs congressional oversight.

The journalists and broadcasters at the Voice of America are convinced that the last-minute timing of these cuts on the eve of President Bush's inauguration was intended to hinder the new administration's ability to make full use of one of our nation's most cost-effective public diplomacy tools an unfettered free press to the world, the Voice of America.

TIM SHAMBLE

President

American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812

Washington

Vietnam anti-communist rioting could become next Tiananmen Square

Unheard of throughout the history of the Vietnamese Communist totalitarian regime, tens of thousands of Montagnards (the French name for the ethnic minorities living in the mountains, who were allies to American forces during the Vietnam War) have been protesting throughout the Central Highlands of south Vietnam for more than a week. Unfortunately, The Washington Times has paid almost no attention to this historic event, giving it only four paragraphs on page A14 ("Vietnam blocks roads amid ethnic rioting," Feb. 9). This could be Vietnam's equivalent of China's Tiananmen Square. Vietnam's Communist government has sent tens of thousands of troops into the area and has sealed off the entire region, cut phone lines and banned all foreigners from the region. Helicopters, tanks, riot police and other police and security units have blanketed the area. The army is conducting sweeps along the border in an attempt to prevent the thousands who are fleeing the area from crossing over into Cambodia and gaining access to the media.

Vietnamese propaganda has tried to put an economic spin on the riots, citing falling coffee prices as the cause. The true causes, however, are cultural genocide, religious repression and the stealing of ancestral lands that has relegated our people to abject poverty. Communist officials have been burning our churches and have banned us from holding religious services in our native languages. If caught holding services, the people are punished with heavy fines, which they can't pay, and are then jailed. The only services Montagnards are allowed to attend are those in Potemkin state-run churches, which are conducted in Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese have destroyed our cultural and social systems of extended families by forcing the elderly into "retirement villages" where they have little or no means to survive. Since the Vietnamesestole the Montagnards' land, they are among Vietnam's poorest of the poor. As a result, they have little money to buy pharmaceuticals to treat the sick and elderly. Disease is widespread, and leprosy, mitigated during the war with American assistance, has once again reached epidemic levels. The Vietnamese Communists have responded by locking up these people in leprosy gulags. Under the United Nations-supported population control program, Montagnard women are coerced into being sterilized, many being promised money that they never receive. Caustic chemicals are used in the process, causing irreparable damage to their organs.

The Vietnamese Communists' repression of the Montagnards is nothing new. They call us "Moi," literally translated as "savage," but with a much more pejorative connotation. After the 1954 Geneva Convention and the Vietnamese Communist takeover, they systematically killed more than 50,000 ethnic minorities in one of several pogroms in the North. After the takeover in 1975, the Vietnamese Communists, with gunships overhead, herded Montagnards through a choke point on Route 14 set up by their army and slaughtered thousands of men, women and children fleeing toward the sanctuary of the Cambodian jungle.

What is the United States doing? From what we know, the State Department has only issued a travel warning, as if it was needed, seeing as the Communists have made the area off-limits to foreigners. On Feb. 9, Reuters reported that 200 Montagnards were severely beaten in the province of Pleiku. However, The Washington Times said nothing about this report. Prior to the phones being cut off, two Montagnards were reported to have been killed in Buon EaSup, in the province of Daklak. The news blackout, coupled with cutting of the phone lines, suggests that we might be seeing a repeat of Communist history perhaps a Vietnamese Tiananmen Sqare. Since there are no TV cameras present, it is up to the print media to report on this tragic event, but they arefailing us. Is this to be like the Armenian genocide, not to be reported for decades?

The United States should not ignore the plight of the Montagnards.

Y-BHUAT EBAN

Executive Director

Montagnard Human Rights Organization Inc.

Greensboro, N.C.

Wait equivocation

What's the big deal about a one-day waiting period for an abortion ("Senate OKs bill for abortion wait," Feb. 7)? Abortion supporters say a waiting period infringes upon a fundamental constitutional right, but they never specify where in the Constitution that right is mentioned. Nor do they seem very concerned about a one-week waiting period infringing upon citizens' fundamental right to own firearms, which is mentioned explicitly in the Second Amendment.

ROGER JOHNSON

Kensington, Md.

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