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Cablegate: Laos to Host Regional Religious Conference; Ngo, Drl Visits

VZCZCXRO5457
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHVN #0579/01 3011030
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271030Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2271
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2333

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 VIENTIANE 000579

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS (EMERY)
DEPT FOR DRL (ADAMSON, BIRDSALL, ORONA)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV PREL SOCI LA VM
SUBJECT: LAOS TO HOST REGIONAL RELIGIOUS CONFERENCE; NGO, DRL VISITS
PUSH RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED: PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Parallel visits by the Department's first
Ambassador for Religious Freedom and a key DRL staff member helped
promote the issue of religious freedom in Laos this past week. AMB
(ret.) Robert Seiple brought an invitation from an NGO now headed by
his son for Laos to host an international conference on religion in
2009; the NGO, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), is also
proposing much-needed training on religion at the local level. The
Seiple visit and the invitation were warmly received by Lao leaders.
DRL's Clarissa Adamson, a specialist on the annual International
Religious Freedom Report, heard from key religious leaders how
important training for both local officials and local religious
leaders remains six years after the Lao Prime Minister issued a
decree on religion in Laos. End summary.

2. (SBU) COMMENT: Laos lacks capacity in many areas: one is the
ability to communicate new government policies from Vientiane to the
provinces, districts, and local levels. The right to religious
belief was clearly annunciated in the Prime Minister's 2002 Decree
No. 92 on Religion which also contains prohibitions against the use
of enticement or force to make people leave their religion. Six
years later, however, a senior central government official admits
that 1 in 3 provincial officials still is not familiar with the
decree - while a religious leader estimates that in reality fewer
than 1 in 6 provincial officials clearly understands the decree and
the protected rights announced therein.

3. (SBU) COMMENT continued: Having the Lao Government interested in
hosting a major international symposium helps highlight throughout
the Lao system the issue of religion, a positive result of IGE's
invitation. Assuming the conference goes forward, that message will
be repeated during the coming year - and may help decrease local
problems involving religious freedom. Equally or possibly even more
important is IGE's longer-term interest in working with the Lao
Government on training programs in upcountry Laos for provincial,
district, and local religious affairs and police officials, as well
as for local religious leaders, to better understand Decree 92 -
including the fact that attempts by local officials to force
Christians to renounce their religion are illegal. End comment.

AMB Seiple Visits
-----------------

4. (U) Former U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for Religious Freedom (from
1998-2000) Robert Seiple visited Laos October 18-21. He was
accompanied by his son, Dr. Chris Seiple, President of the Institute
for Global Engagement, an NGO based in the Washington D.C. area that
promotes religious freedom, and IGE staff specialist Ms. Hien Vu who
has been working with IGE's Vietnam program. AMB Seiple, the former
IGE President, has visited Laos more than ten times since 1989 and
is well-known to senior Government of Laos (GOL) officials. His
main goals for the visit were to introduce his son as IGE President
to GOL officials and to win GOL agreement to host IGE's third annual
International Conference on "Religion and the Rule of Law" in 2009.
He also raised two cases of religious intolerance which had
reportedly occurred in July.

IGE's Regional Conferences
--------------------------

5. (U) IGE has partnered with local organizations to host previous
conferences in Vietnam in November 2007 and in China in June 2008.
These conferences bring together government officials from Asia
responsible for religious and legal issues, regional religious
leaders, and a range of international scholars to discuss the legal
bases for religious practices throughout the world. This more
academic approach to religious issues has been successful in
achieving progress toward more religious freedom without being
confrontational. For the June 2008 China conference, the GOL sent
senior officials representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA),
the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), and the Lao Front for
National Construction (LFNC) - the mass organization under the LPRP
responsible for religious and ethnic affairs.

6. (U) While in Vientiane, AMB Seiple met with key Government of
Laos (GOL) officials including Deputy Prime Minster and Standing
Member of Government Somsavat Lengsavat; LFNC Vice President Tong
Yeu Tho; Ambassador Khouanta Phalivong, Director General of MFA's
Europe-Americas Department; and senior officials of the LPRP's Mass
Organization Department and the Ministry of Public Security, as well
as Members of the Lao National Assembly. All concerned appeared
positive about GOL agreement to host the IGE conference, and DPM
Somsavat gave his personal support. IGE's invitation for Laos to
host the conference was highlighted in the government-controlled
media's coverage of the Seiple-Somsavat meeting, a positive sign.


VIENTIANE 00000579 002 OF 003


7. (U) Although a formal GOL response is still pending, the Lao
Prime Minister's Office informed the Lao National Academy of Social
Sciences (LNASS) that it would act as IGE's partner for the
conference. During their meeting with LNASS President Dr. Sileua
Bounkham, the IGE team members appeared to gain positive
consideration for holding the conference in October 2009. When Dr.
Sileua pointed out that LNASS, organized less than two years ago to
bring together eight different GOL think-tanks, lacks resources, Dr.
Seiple assured him of IGE's full support to ensure the success of
the conference.

Post-Conference Local Seminars
------------------------------

8. (U) During the IGE visit, AMB Seiple and Dr. Seiple briefed GOL
interlocutors on the agreement IGE has achieved in Vietnam to hold
training seminars on religion in the montagnard-populated Central
Highlands region of Vietnam that will bring together local officials
and religious leaders. In conjunction with holding the regional
conference in Laos or after the conference is concluded, IGE also
proposed working with the LFNC to hold a series of training seminars
within Laos. These would bring together provincial, district, and
local LFNC officials as well as police and religious leaders to
discuss the GOL's policy toward religion as set out in the 2002
Prime Minister's Decree No. 92 on Religion.

Religious Cases
---------------

9. (U) As he has done during past trips to Laos, AMB Seiple raised
high-profile cases of religious intolerance during his meetings with
the Lao leadership. One involved three people including a pastor
reportedly incarcerated since an incident in July in Boukham Village
in Ad-Sapangthong District of Savannaket Province. The same report
stated that 55 Christians were forced to relocate from Boukham
Village as a result of the incident. Another report involved
Christians in Huay An Village in Jomphet District of Luang Prabang
Province reportedly being forced in July produce their Bibles and
hymn books which were subsequently burned by the local police,
apparently as an attempt to force them to deny their faith.

10. (SBU) AMB Seiple emphasized not only that these cases appeared
to violate the Lao Constitution as well as Prime Minister Decree 92
on Religion but also the damage caused to the reputation of Laos
when cases like these are circulated on the Internet. Senior Lao
leaders promised to look into both cases.

11. (SBU) During his meeting with AMB Seiple, the Deputy Director
General for External Affairs at the Ministry of Public Security
(MOPS) attempted to defend the actions of local authorities in the
Savannakhet case, arguing the pastor involved had moved to Boukham
Village in 2005 but had never changed his household registration as
required by regulation. The Public Security official had no
information about the Luang Prabang case. (Comment: The MOPS
meeting was notable for the DDG's level of preparation and
willingness to engage in discussion of the Savannakhet incident,
although he did blame the incident on the Christian pastor. End
Comment.)

12. (SBU) NOTE: A Lao religious leader told EmbOff on the margins of
the AMB Seiple visit and repeated to DRL Ms. Adamson that the three
people involved in the Boukham Village case had recently been
released from incarceration. The religious leader also said the
Luang Prabang situation had been resolved, without going into
specifics; apparently none of the Christians in Luang Prabang wound
up recanting his/her faith. End Note.

Local Media Cover Religious Freedom Address
-------------------------------------------

13. (U) AMB Seiple and Dr. Seiple also addressed more than 70 Lao
officials from a broad range of ministries and organizations and
religious representatives on "The Right and Freedom to Believe in
Religion" at the Lao Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA). IFA
provides training for all Lao diplomats and MFA officials, in
addition to foreign affairs department staff from the provinces.
The Seiple addresses received favorable local radio and newspaper
coverage.

DRL Also Discusses Religious Issues
-----------------------------------

14. (SBU) Ms. Clarissa Adamson, a specialist representing the Bureau
of Democracy, Rights, and Labor (DRL), visited Vientiane October
20-23. Ms. Adamson helps edit the annual International Religious
Freedom (IRF) Report on Laos. In addition to meeting with senior
MFA and LFNC officials in parallel with those visited by the IGE

VIENTIANE 00000579 003 OF 003


delegation, Ms. Adamson met with religious leaders from the
Adventists, Lao Evangelical Church, Catholic Church, and Baha'i
group. In general, all of the religious representatives noted
significantly improved conditions for religious worship in Laos
despite continuing problems at the local level in various locations.


15. (SBU) The recurrent theme presented to Ms. Adamson by the
religious leaders was the need for the GOL to do more to train
officials on the provincial, district, and local levels in the
rights and responsibilities contained in the 2002 Prime Minister's
Decree 2002 on Religion. A senior LFNC official had admitted to Ms.
Adamson that the process of educating officials has gone slowly; he
estimated that only 65% of provincial officials, 30% of district
officials, and relatively few local officials have become familiar
with this new decree during the past six years. One of the
religious leaders, in contrast, estimated only 15% of provincial
officials are really familiar with Decree 92.

HUSO

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