Cablegate: Cra Explains Delays in Implementing Religion Law in The

DE RUEHHI #1128/01 1690819
R 180819Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HANOI 1109
B) HANOI 273
C) HANOI 150
D) 06 HANOI 3059

HANOI 00001128 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) On June 14, Poloff met with the GVN Committee on Religious
Affairs (CRA) and discussed delays in the registration of religious
congregations in the North and Northwest Highlands and aspects of
the spread of Protestantism among ethnic minority communities. CRA,
which has operational responsibility for implementation of the GVN's
Legal Framework on Religion established in 2004 and 2005, told us
that the GVN was purposely proceeding more cautiously in the North
as Protestantism is "newer" there. CRA is concerned about potential
conflict between ethnic minority traditionalists and recent
Christian converts and the stability of family life in largely rural
communities. CRA's "roadmap" in the North, therefore, focuses first
on further training of district and provincial-level officials and
then registration of congregations of the nationally recognized
Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN). In a third phase, the
GVN will register non-ECVN congregations. Despite this long-term
plan, our CRA interlocutors emphasized that families are now allowed
to practice "non-registered" religions freely in their homes.

2. (SBU) While we are concerned about the GVN maintaining its
momentum in legalizing and registering religious groups, we see no
backpedaling on religious freedom nor a lack of commitment at the
national level. We believe the trend in the North, and nationwide,
remains largely positive. Numbers of congregation registrations and
religious denomination recognition certificates continue to grow,
and the emphasis on training of provincial authorities is a good
one. End summary.

Meeting had Protestantism Focus

3. (SBU) On June 14, Poloff met with Dang Tai Tinh, Director of the
International Cooperation Department and Tran Manh Hung, Deputy
Director of the Protestantism Department of the GVN Committee on
Religious Affairs (CRA). The purpose of the meeting was to get an
update on recent religious developments and to discuss delays in
registration, under the GVN Legal Framework on Religion procedures,
of religious congregations in the North and Northwest Highlands.
CRA focused its discussion on Protestant organizations. Although we
tried to raise some of the issues surrounding Buddhist organizations
in Vietnam at this meeting, the CRA officials suggested we discuss
such issues on another occasion.

Recent Religious Developments

4. (SBU) CRA interlocutors told Poloff that the GVN has now
"nationally recognized" the Baha'i Faith in Vietnam. (Note:
"national recognition" is the highest level of GVN approval given
after one year of national level registration and certification of
religious activities End note.) In terms of the rapid growth of
Protestantism in Vietnam, CRA said that there are approximately one
million Protestants in Vietnam and the GVN officially recognizes two
Protestant organizations at a national level - the Evangelical
Church of Vietnam North (ECVN) and the larger and older Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV). National-level recognition is
now pending for three other Protestant organizations - the United
World Mission Church, the Seventh Day Adventists and the General
Baptist Conference. CRA told us that this should occur in early
2008 when the GVN gives final approval to the groups' respective
management boards and they have completed one year of operation
under their respective national level registrations.

5. (SBU) Hung said that currently the CRA is providing instructions
to the following five religious organizations so that they can
register nationally, as opposed to local-level registration: the
Christian Inter-Fellowship Church; the Pentecostal Church; the
Baptist Church; the Mennonite Church; and the Presbyterian Church.
Once these denominations complete their registration procedures,
they will be granted a national certificate of religious
operation/activities. One year later, the GVN will review and
consider whether to officially recognize these denominations (as
required by the 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief).

Update on the Central Highlands

HANOI 00001128 002.2 OF 002

6. (SBU) CRA divides Vietnam into three geographic zones - the
South, the Central Highlands, and the North, including the Northwest
Highlands. In terms of the Central Highlands, CRA reports that
since the 2004 establishment of the Legal Framework on Religion,
there are 849 total Protestant congregations, of which eighty
percent are registered. According to CRA, there have been nine
churches built and 30,000 bibles printed in the Ede ethnic language.
Tinh told us this progress took several years to achieve in the
Central Highlands, an area in which Protestantism is more entrenched
than in the North.

Factors to Consider in the North

7. (SBU) Our CRA interlocutors emphasized that the registration of
congregations in the North will take more time and resources as
Protestants further integrate into the communities there. Tinh
pointed out that Protestantism is "much newer in the North" and most
of the Protestants in the North are ethnic Hmong, who have a strong
"cultural heritage" and traditions. The CRA is very concerned about
"conflict" both within individual families and among families in
villages and communes - between converted Christian believers and
traditional ancestor worshippers. He said this can often happen
between parents and children and tear the family life apart.

8. (SBU) Tinh told us the GVN is very concerned about preserving
unity and integrity in Vietnam, and that in order for the GVN to
ensure religious freedom, "we must look at preserving stability and
protecting traditions." He said the GVN will take specific steps to
avoid "bad interactions" between "believers" and "non-believers" in
the North.

9. (SBU) He added that the GVN sees other "security issues" around
groups and sects from the South coming to recruit in the North.
With this in mind, CRA has developed a "roadmap" for proceeding with
further implementation of the legal framework in the North. First,
CRA will register ECVN-affiliated congregations. Following that,
they will support registrations in the North for groups that are
"recognized in the South." Finally, registrations will be processed
for "non-recognized organizations." In the interim, CRA emphasized
to Poloff that all religious groups, registered or unregistered, are
allowed to "practice their religion freely in their homes." Tinh
told us there are 300 non-ECVN-affiliated Protestant groups

10. (SBU) CRA cites 45 Protestant congregations registered in the
North since adoption of the Legal Framework in 2004. A total of 31
congregations had been registered by the end of 2006, and 14 since
January 1, 2007. In order to speed up the pace of EVCN
registrations, CRA has been planning more training sessions for
district and provincial level officials, where there still appears
to be some confusion on procedures. CRA told us they plan 41 more
training sessions in the North by the end of the year.

Vatican Relations Progressing Like Molasses

11. (SBU) On the subject of Vietnam-Vatican relations, Tinh was not
forthcoming. The Vietnam-Vatican relationship is "growing," and
both governments have agreed to "establish a working committee" to
further promote the relationship. He would not commit to a definite
date when this "committee" will begin its work. When asked why the
GVN rejected two Vatican-endorsed bishopric nominees earlier this
year (Ref. A), Tinh said only that this was an "internal matter"
between the two governments.


12. (SBU) Despite some defensive comments and delays on
registrations in the North, the trend on religious freedom and
implementation of the Legal Framework on Religion in the North
continues to be largely positive. Although we cannot confirm all
the statistics, the number of registrations is slowly increasing and
the emphasis on the training of local authorities should help
eliminate local obstacles. While we remain concerned about any GVN
excuses for delays, we do not see any national-level lack of
commitment to or "backpedaling" on religious freedom and
implementation of the Legal Framework on Religion in Vietnam. We
expect the situation in the North to continue its gradual
improvement. End comment.


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