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Cablegate: Gvn and Catholic Church Seek to Defuse Land Dispute

VZCZCXRO8613
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #0129 0350919
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 040919Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7110
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4239
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0043
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS HANOI 000129

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KIRF PHUM PGOV VM

SUBJECT: GVN AND CATHOLIC CHURCH SEEK TO DEFUSE LAND DISPUTE

REF: A) HANOI 097; B) HANOI 118

1. (U) Summary: In a reversal of the GVN's move last week to seek
legal action against ongoing Catholic prayer vigils and protests
seeking the return of church lands in downtown Hanoi, both the GVN
and the Catholic Church have made conciliatory statements and
pledged to work together to resolve the issue after the upcoming Tet
(Lunar New Year) holiday. Differences remain, however, over whether
an eventual settlement will include the return of the former
residence of the Vatican Apostolic delegate which has been at the
center of the recent protests. In a February 4 meeting with
PolCouns, MFA officials said that the GVN saw this as a land dispute
issue rather than a religious freedom or human rights issue. End
summary.

2. (U) Moving to defuse tensions, Vatican Secretary of State
Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone wrote to Hanoi Archbishop Joseph Ngo Kiet
on January 30 saying that while he was "filled with admiration
before the feelings of earnest devotion and profound attachment to
the Church and the Holy See shown by thousands of faithful who, day
after day, gather peacefully to pray in front of this building," he
requested the Archbishop to "intervene, so that acts which could
disrupt the public order be avoided, and...it will be thus possible,
in a more serene climate, to resume the dialogue with the
authorities, in order to find a fitting solution to this delicate
problem."

3. (U) Vice Minister of Public Security Nguyen Van Huong met with
Archbichop Kiet on January 30, and the two agreed to discuss the
issue after the upcoming Tet holidays. Archbishop Kiet in turn sent
a letter to his followers saying that "the sentiments of fervent
devotion and deep attachment to the Church are more intense than
ever before," and that "after tensions, there came a dialogue
between the See of Hanoi, Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops,
and the Vietnam leadership at the highest levels for a good
solution." He went on that "I cannot stand seeing you braving the
cold in the freezing winter...You can trust that I and our brothers
and sisters around the world always be with you...And the final
result will definitely be beautiful as you have wished."

4. (SBU) In contrast to press reports that the GVN had decided to
return the disputed property, the MFA told PolCouns that while the
GVN was determined to resolve the issue fairly, that might not mean
returning the former home of the Vatican's apostolic delegate at 42
Nha Chung which has been at the center of the dispute. In a
February 4 meeting requested by the MFA, Deputy Director General of
the Americas Department Ha Kim Ngoc said the government recognizes
that the church request for land to build a headquarters is
legitimate. Suitable land will be found, Ngoc said, but it may be
property other than 42 Nha Chung.

5. (SBU) Ngoc said that property had originally been a pagoda before
the French destroyed it and built the church and Vatican Embassy
building during the colonial period. This makes the issue even more
complicated, Ngoc said, as the government wants to avoid a dispute
between Catholics and Buddhists. The Prime Minister is personally
working with the Hanoi People's Committee to find an equitable
solution, Ngoc said.
6. (SBU) Ngoc said that while the issue is complicated, it is
fundamentally a property dispute and not a human rights or religious
freedom issue. Some people made use of the issue to drive their own
agendas beyond peaceful protest, Ngoc said. The guards at the
disputed property had been given instructions not to use force
during the demonstrations but they had been attacked and ten had
been injured, one seriously. Noting that Catholic lawyer and
democracy activist Le Quoc Quan had been seen with blood pouring
from his ear during a protest, Ngoc suggested that Quan's wound had
been self-inflicted in order to create sympathy. (Note: Quan had
written to the Embassy that he was beaten brutally by four to five
guards. End note.) Poloff noted that the USG remains concerned
that the right to peaceful protest is respected.
7. (SBU) Comment: With clear instructions from the Vatican and the
highest levels of the GVN, both sides have taken a step back in what
had turned into a high-profile showdown over the disputed church
property at 42 Nha Trung and the situation is likely to remain calm
throughout the next two weeks of the holiday period. Protesters
have dispersed for the Tet holiday. However, differing views
between the Church and the GVN over whether an eventual settlement
will include the property at 42 Nha Chung mean the issue is still
far from resolved.
MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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