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Cablegate: Hoa Hao Monk Threatening Immolation

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

080949Z Nov 01

2001HANOI02924 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ1670

PAGE 01 HANOI 02924 01 OF 02 081012Z
ACTION EAP-00

INFO LOG-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 SRPP-00 DS-00
EB-00 UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 LAB-01
L-00 NSAE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01 PC-01 PRS-00 P-00
SCT-00 SP-00 SS-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00 USIE-00
DSCC-00 PRM-00 DRL-02 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /008W
------------------3B97F8 081013Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4624
AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
USMISSION GENEVA
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
DIA WASHDC
NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002924

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF
CINCPAC FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: HOA HAO MONK THREATENING IMMOLATION


UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HANOI 02924 01 OF 02 081012Z
1. (SBU) ON NOVEMBER 8, CONGEN POLOFF CONTACTED TWO
HOA HAO BUDDHIST ELDERS IN HCMC TO CONFIRM DETAILS
OF A NOVEMBER 6 PRESS RELEASE BY A U.S.-BASED HOA
HAO ORGANIZATION THAT A HOA HAO MONK WAS
THREATENING SELF-IMMOLATION. POLOFF CALLED TRAN
HUU DUYEN, A HOA HAO ELDER WHO WAS RELEASED FROM
PRISON UNDER A 1998 AMNESTY, BY TELEPHONE. POLOFF
ALSO CALLED LE QUANG LIEM (LQL), THE HOA HAO ELDER
CURRENTLY UNDER HOUSE ARREST FOR MEETING WITH A
GROUP IN HCMC WHOM POLICE BELIEVE WERE PREPARING
THEMSELVES FOR IMMOLATION. (NOTE: TWO DAYS AFTER
LQLQS ARREST, A FEMALE HOA HAO FOLLOWER AND MEMBER
OF LQLQS UNOFFICIAL HOA HAO CHURCH DID COMMIT SELF-
IMMOLATION. END NOTE.) BOTH DUYEN AND LQL
CONFIRMED THE STORY IN THE PRESS RELEASE AND ADDED
DETAILS OF THEIR OWN.

2. (SBU) VO THANH LIEM (ALSO KNOWN AS NAM LIEM) WHO
RESIDES IN CHO MOI DISTRICT OF THE MEKONG DELTA
PROVINCE OF AN GIANG, TURNED HIS HOME INTO A PAGODA
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, AND DOZENS OF HOA HAO FOLLOWERS
WORSHIP THERE ON A DAILY BASIS. ACCORDING TO DUYEN
AND LQL, ON NOVEMBER 1, NAM LIEM ORGANIZED A HOA
HAO PRAYER CEREMONY AT HIS HOME. WHAT HE DID
DIFFERENTLY ON THIS OCCASION THAN DURING PREVIOUS
PRAYER CEREMONIES WAS TO DISPLAY THE HOA HAO FLAG
AND HANG PICTURES OF THE HOA HAO FOUNDER IN HIS
PAGODA.

3. (SBU) ACCORDING TO LQL, POLICE CAME TO THE
PAGODA AND ORDERED NAM LIEM TO TAKE DOWN THE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HANOI 02924 01 OF 02 081012Z
OFFENDING FLAG AND PHOTOGRAPHS. WHEN NAM LIEM
REFUSED, THE POLICE ORDERED ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAD
COME TO THE PAGODA TO WORSHIP TO RETURN TO THEIR
HOMES. ACCORDING TO DUYEN, POLICE RETURNED LATER
IN THE EVENING AND BROKE INTO THE PAGODA WITH THE
PURPOSE OF TAKING DOWN THE FLAG AND PHOTOS. WHILE
THE POLICE WERE INSIDE, NAM LIEM CLOSED THE DOOR
FROM THE OUTSIDE AND LOCKED THEM IN. AFTER SEVERAL
ATTEMPTS TO BREAK THE DOOR DOWN, THE POLICE HAD TO
SHOOT THE LOCK OFF TO GET OUT.

4. (SBU) FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS, THE POLICE
MAINTAINED A PRESENCE AT THE PAGODA AND DID NOT
ALLOW ANY HOA HAO FOLLOWERS TO ENTER. ACCORDING TO
LQL, NAM LIEM HAD SEVERAL HEATED EXCHANGES WITH THE
POLICE AND, ON NOVEMBER 6, CLIMBED UP A KNOTTY PINE
TREE BEHIND THE PAGODA CARRYING A 5-LITER CONTAINER
OF GASOLINE AND A KNIFE THREATENING TO KILL HIMSELF
IF THE POLICE DID NOT GO AWAY. BOTH LQL AND DUYEN
TOLD POLOFF THAT AS OF THE AFTERNOON OF NOVEMBER 8,
NAM LIEM WAS STILL UP IN THE TREE THREATENING TO
IMMOLATE HIMSELF. DUYEN ADDED THAT NAM LIEM HAD
CUT HIMSELF WITH THE KNIFE, BUT THAT THE INJURY WAS
MINOR. BOTH LQL AND DUYEN SAID DOZENS OF POLICE
ARE ON HAND - THEY ARE TRYING TO PERSUADE NAM LIEM
TO COME DOWN; THEY ARE ALSO KEEPING CURIOUS
ONLOOKERS AWAY FROM THE PAGODA AND TELLING THEM TO
GO HOME.

5. (U) FURTHER BACKGROUND: NAM LIEM WAS INVOLVED IN
A SIMILAR INCIDENT IN 1996. AT THAT TIME, HE HAD
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 02924 01 OF 02 081012Z
REFUSED TO SIGN A DOCUMENT TO ALLOW LOCAL
AUTHORITIES TO TEAR DOWN A GATE HE HAD BUILT
WITHOUT PERMISSION AT THE ENTRANCEWAY LEADING FROM
THE VILLAGEQS MAIN ROAD TO HIS PAGODA. WHEN POLICE
CAME TO ARREST HIM, HE CLIMBED UP THE SAME TREE.
HE STAYED THERE FOR FOUR DAYS. WITNESSES SAID AT
THAT TIME THAT HUNDREDS OF POLICEMEN WERE NEEDED TO
KEEP SEVERAL THOUSAND SPECTATORS AWAY FROM THE
AREA. (NAM LIEMQS PAGODA IS IN A WOODED COMPOUND
LOCATED ABOUT 100 YARDS FROM THE MAIN ROAD SITUATED
IN THE MIDDLE OF SURROUNDING GREEN RICE PADDIES.)

6. (U) WHEN NAM LIEM CAME DOWN FROM THE TREE IN
1996, HE WAS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY, CHARGED WITH
INTERFERING WITH THE DUTIES OF A POLICE OFFICER,
AND SENTENCED TO TWO YEARS IN PRISON. HE IS FAMOUS
LOCALLY, KNOWN AS QTHE MAN WHO CLIMBED THE TREE.Q

7. (U) POLOFF SPENT A HALF DAY WITH NAM LIEM IN
JULY 1999, SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER HE HAD FINISHED HIS
PRISON SENTENCE. POLOFF FOUND HIM TO BE INTENSELY
SPIRITUAL AND EXTREMELY CHARISMATIC. AT ONE POINT
DURING THEIR MEETING, NAM LIEM SHOWED POLOFF A SCAR
ON THE SIDE OF HIS KNEE. HE SAID HE HAD BIT
HIMSELF THERE WHILE IN PRISON Q TO DEMONSTRATE TO
HIS JAILERS THAT HE WAS NOT AFRAID OF PAIN.

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) NAM LIEM IS NOT PART OF LQLQS RENEGADE HOA
HAO SECT. HE APPEARS TO HAVE HIS OWN FOLLOWING IN
AND AROUND AN GIANG PROVINCEQS CHO MOI DISTRICT.
POLOFF BELIEVES HE WOULD NOT HESITATE TO RESORT TO
IMMOLATION IF HE FELT IT NECESSARY. AS LONG AS
POLICE USE PERSUASION, RATHER THAN FORCE, HOWEVER,
THE THREATENED IMMOLATION MAY BE AVOIDED. THAT THE
STANDOFF IS NOW IN ITS THIRD DAY IS AN ENCOURAGING
SIGN THAT NEITHER SIDE IS RUSHING TO ACTION.

PORTER

UNCLASSIFIED

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