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Cablegate: Renewed Catholic Church Protests at Thai Ha Parish

VZCZCXRO9476
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #0446 1080725
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170725Z APR 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7643
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4604
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0048
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS HANOI 000446

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF

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

SUBJECT: RENEWED CATHOLIC CHURCH PROTESTS AT THAI HA PARISH

REF: HANOI 0160

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Catholic parishioners have been gathering again over the
last three weeks at Thai Ha parish in Hanoi to protest construction
work on a disputed plot of land adjacent to the church. Large
prayer vigils had initially taken place in January and February,
before the Tet Lunar New Year holiday (reftel), and then diminished.
The prayer vigils restarted again on March 23 and grew, culminating
in an April 7 vigil of some 1,000 demonstrators and an ultimatum to
disband by local Hanoi authorities. Thai Ha church officials have
declined to speak with us for the time being, but local media report
that so far there have been no clashes between demonstrators and law
enforcement units. Currently, the demonstrations have mostly
disbanded; however, two large tents remain at the site and
parishioners are gathering to demonstrate in smaller numbers before
and after daily masses. The local government has ordered the priest
in charge of the church to present himself to the People's Committee
of Dong Da District in Hanoi to face charges that the church and its
parishioners are flouting the committee's ultimatum to halt the
demonstrations and sit-ins. End summary.

2. (SBU) Thai Ha's Catholic congregants seek the return of property
confiscated by the GVN and have been demonstrating at the site, in
downtown Hanoi, off and on since January 2008 (reftel). Post
contacts within the Archdiocese of Hanoi's office said that
parishioners began gathering on March 23 when construction work
began on the land the Church argues it owns. The GVN had previously
confiscated the land and sold it to a private company. The private
company, in turn, sold off smaller parcels of the land to private
individuals to construct residences. Although construction of a
factory on the site ceased in January 2008, construction reportedly
began again on the site in late March, sparking "hundreds" of people
to gather in protest. So far there have been no clashes between
demonstrators and law enforcement units.

3. (SBU) Local state-sanctioned media report that Catholic
demonstrators are occupying state-owned land, gathering and praying
illegally in public areas, illegally erecting crucifixes and icons
of the Virgin Mary, and disturbing public order. The New Hanoi
newspaper accused the protesters of taking advantage of religious
freedom to stir up protests against the government, while online
Catholic news services warn that "the hostile media coverage has
increased fears among the demonstrators that a police crackdown is
imminent."

4. (SBU) According to Hanoi Moi Newspaper (the official mouthpiece
of the Hanoi People's Committee) and Hanoi Television and Radio,
local protesters started to gather at the site on March 23. On
April 6, the People's Committee of Dong Da district in Hanoi issued
a decision to impose administrative punishments against local
protesters who were accused of illegally occupy public property. On
the same day, the local People's Committee issued an ultimatum to
halt the demonstrations and sit-ins before noon of April 7.
District and precinct officials reportedly reached out to the
protesters at the site, asking them to comply with the decisions.
When Emboffs visited the protest site on April 16, it appeared the
bulk of the demonstrators had disbanded; however, two large tents
remain and Catholic Church officials tell us a "few demonstrators"
are still spending the night. In addition, parishioners are
rallying for fixed periods of time before and after daily masses.

5. (SBU) The Archdiocese of Hanoi confirmed to us that the local
government has ordered the priest in charge at Thai Ha parish,
Father Vu Khoi Phung, to present himself to the People's Committee
of Dong Da District to face charges that the church and its
parishioners are flouting the committee's ultimatum to halt the
demonstrations and sit-ins. We understand Father Phung is currently
in HCMC. While tensions remain high at the disputed site, a police
crackdown does not appear imminent.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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