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Cablegate: Officials and Religious Leaders Portray Positive Picture Of

VZCZCXRO8996
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1056/01 3400354
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 050354Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5199
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3467
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY PRIORITY 5428

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001056

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF, PRM/ANE, PRM/A

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KIRF PREL VM
SUBJECT: OFFICIALS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS PORTRAY POSITIVE PICTURE OF
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BEN TRE AND SOC TRANG

REF: A) HCMC 1054 B) 07 HCMC 1236

HO CHI MIN 00001056 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Ben Tre and Soc Trang authorities attribute
the positive religious freedom situation in their respective
provinces in part to their sponsorship of annual training on
2004 and 2005 central government regulations on religion. Ben
Tre officials cautioned, however, that religious believers
should not carry out "activities hostile to the state under the
cover of religion." For their part, Soc Trang officials said
the province does not require congregations to provide lists of
followers and one religious leader can register several
congregations. Soc Trang Catholic leaders concurred with the
positive picture depicted by provincial authorities: while their
churches have space and personnel needs, they say they have good
relations with Soc Trang officials and no official obstacles
stand in the way of Catholics carrying out charitable
activities. End Summary.

Implementing Regulations in Ben Tre
-----------------------------------
2. (SBU) Ben Tre Provincial People's Committee and Committee for
Religious Affairs (CRA) officials on November 17 told PolOffs
that central government regulations have facilitated religious
practice because they codify certain rules and are "clearly
written." CRA organizes annual training programs on these
regulations, including sessions on registration procedures, they
explained. (Note: The regulations include the 2004 Ordinance on
Religion and Belief, the Prime Minister's 2005 "Instruction on
Tasks Regarding Protestantism" and a 2005 decree guiding
implementation of the Ordinance on Religion and Belief. End
Note). Commune and district officials and villagers also come
to the provincial administration seeking guidance on how to
implement regulations, they said.

3. (SBU) Ben Tre provincial authorities stated that people are
free to practice their beliefs but warned that religious
followers should not carry out "activities hostile to the state
under the cover of religion." They noted that the province has
not experienced any negative incidents nor disciplined any
officials for intolerance of religious activities since 2006.
If a commune leader were to make derogatory statements about a
religious faith, the leader would be disciplined, they
guaranteed.

4. (SBU) In response to PolOff's question about an incident
reported to ConGen HCMC, Ben Tre provincial authorities denied
that Tan Phong Commune police and officials insulted and
threatened Vietnamese Assemblies of God followers. Provincial
authorities concluded that no one in the commune said the faith
was "reactionary." They said the problem was that the local
head of the congregation registered a single congregation in
three different places. However, regulations require
congregation to register at a specific locale, not three
different locations, they stated. (Comment: Local congregations
must register in one locale, but there can be three different
congregations at three different locales. If they want to move
their church they have to re-register at the new location. End
Comment).

Promoting Peaceful Relations in Soc Trang
-----------------------------------------
5. (SBU) Soc Trang Ethnic Minority and Internal Affairs
Department officials on November 20 told PolOff that relations
between Kinh and Khmer are "harmonious." Soc Trang officials,
however, did not make mention of the cases of four former Khmer
Buddhist Khmer monks who were imprisoned after their involvement
in a February 2007 demonstration, which was raised by the USCIRF
delegation last year (Ref B). An Ethnic Minority Department
official asserted that provincial and local governments have not
denied benefits to anyone because of religious affiliation or
ethnicity. No officials had been disciplined for violating
religious freedom regulations or for saying the Protestant faith
was "reactionary," the official emphasized.

6. (SBU) Soc Trang's positive religious freedom situation was
partly attributable to officials and villagers participating in
training on the contents of the 2004 and 2005 Central Government
regulations on religion, the official continued. He said Soc
Trang does not demand that congregations provide lists of
followers and one religious leader can register several
congregations, the official explained.

7. (SBU) Catholic Church leaders confirmed in a subsequent
meeting that provincial and local authorities have pursued an
enlightened approach toward religion. The head priest at the
Soc Trang Catholic Church (in the Can Tho Diocese) told PolOff
that Catholics are free to practice their beliefs and have good
relations with provincial and local authorities. There are no
obstacles to the Church carrying out charitable activities,

HO CHI MIN 00001056 002.2 OF 002


which mostly consist of administering to the poor, the head
priest said. The Church does not need approvals for its
activities but informs local Vietnam Fatherland Front
representatives about the activities, he said.

Comment: If Only Tra Vinh Would Copy
------------------------------------
8. (SBU) The largely positive state of religious freedom in
these two Delta provinces stands in stark contrast to
neighboring Tra Vinh (Ref A) and serves to highlight Hanoi's
uneven progress in getting local governments to implement
central government regulations on religion. End Comment.

9. (SBU) This cable was co-written by Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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