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Cablegate: Religious Groups Avoid Confrontation in Central Highlands Province

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

130826Z Nov 01

2001HOCHI01272 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ0471

PAGE 01 HO CHI 01272 01 OF 03 130924Z
ACTION EAP-00

INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 ACQ-00 CIAE-00 DINT-00
DOTE-00 SRPP-00 DS-00 EB-00 OIGO-00 FAAE-00 FBIE-00
UTED-00 VC-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 LAB-01
L-00 VCE-00 AC-01 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OMB-01
OPIC-01 PA-00 PC-01 PM-00 PRS-00 ACE-00 P-00
SCT-00 SP-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00 USIE-00 EPAE-00
PMB-00 DSCC-00 PRM-00 DRL-02 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00
/010W
------------------3D6414 130925Z /38
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5686
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI
DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001272

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, EAP/EX AND EAP/PD
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF, DRL/BA, PRM AND INR/EAP/SEA

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV PREL PINR VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS GROUPS AVOID CONFRONTATION IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS PROVINCE


UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 01272 01 OF 03 130924Z
REF: A) HCMC 874, B) HANOI 1250, C) HCMC 658

1.(SBU) SUMMARY: ON A TRIP TO LAM DONG PROVINCE, DPO AND
CONOFF VISITED A MAHAYANA BUDDHIST CONVENT, A ZEN BUDDHIST
MONASTERY AND THE DALAT CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL TO INVESTIGATE
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ISSUES IN THIS ETHNICALLY AND RELIGIOUSLY
DIVERSE CENTRAL HIGHLAND PROVINCE. VIETNAMESE INDIVIDUALS
ARE FREE TO WORSHIP AND PRACTICE THEIR RELIGION OPENLY IN
LAM DONG PROVINCE, ACCORDING TO ALL THREE GROUPS. HOWEVER,
GOVERNMENT CONTROLS REMAIN ON RELIGIOUS ADMINISTRATION AND
ORGANIZATION. MANY BUDDHISTS IN LAM DONG APPEAR TO BE
AVOIDING POLITICS ALTOGETHER, AND MAKE A CLEAR DISTINCTION
BETWEEN RELIGION AND POLITICAL ACTIVITY. CATHOLICS IN LAM
DONG APPEAR TO BELIEVE THE CHURCH HAS AN APPROPRIATE ROLE TO
PLAY IN INFLUENCING POLITICS, BUT THAT ROLE SHOULD BE
DISCREET AND NON-CONFRONTATIONAL. PLEASE PROTECT ALL
SOURCES ON SENSITIVE COMMENTS. END SUMMARY.

BUDDHIST NUNS FOCUS ON PRAYER NOT POLITICS
------------------------------------------

2.(SBU) THE "SU NU BUDDHIST CONVENT" IN DALAT IS THE PRIMARY
BUDDHIST CONVENT IN LAM DONG PROVINCE. OF THE ROUGHLY 300
BUDDHIST NUNS IN DALAT, 40 RESIDE AT SU NU CONVENT. THE
CONVENT IS OPEN TO BUDDHIST WOMEN OF ALL AGES AND ETHNIC
BACKGROUNDS, ALTHOUGH THERE ARE CURRENTLY NO ETHNIC MINORITY
NUNS AT THE CONVENT AND ONLY A FEW IN DALAT AS A WHOLE.
(NOTE: NUNS THERE INDICATED ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE
PROVINCE, AS ELSEWHERE IN VIETNAM, ARE OFTEN EITHER CATHOLIC
OR PROTESTANT). UPON ENTRY INTO THE CONVENT, BUDDHIST NUNS
UNDERGO RIGOROUS TRAINING IN BUDDHIST TEACHINGS AND
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 01272 01 OF 03 130924Z
SCRIPTURE. TYPICALLY, A BUDDHIST NUN REACHES SENIOR RANKS
WITHIN THE CHURCH AFTER 8-10 YEARS OF STUDY AND TRAINING.
THE CONVENT PAYS ONLY A PORTION OF TOTAL TRAINING COSTS AND
RECEIVES NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING OR SUPPORT.

3.(SBU) WHEN ASKED BY CONOFFS ABOUT THE OFFICIAL DISTINCTION
BETWEEN THE UNIFIED BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM (UBCV) AND
THE VIETNAM BUDDHIST CHURCH (VBC), BUDDHIST NUNS AT THE
CONVENT SAID THAT, IN THEIR OPINION, VIETNAMESE BUDDHISTS
ARE ALL "BUDDHIST BROTHERS AND SISTERS" AND THAT THEY SEE NO
DISTINCTION BETWEEN FOLLOWERS OF THE UBCV AND THE VBC. THEY
ADDED THAT THE GVN RECOGNIZES OFFICIALLY ONLY THE VBC,
NOTING THAT LEADERS OF THE UBCV DO NOT RECOGNIZE GVN CONTROL
OVER THE CHURCH'S ACTIVITIES. THE NUNS OFFERED NO
PARTICULAR OPINIONS ABOUT GVN POLICY TOWARDS THE UBCV BUT
SAID THAT SOME RELIGIOUS GROUPS, ESPECIALLY PROTESTANTS,
HAVE "PROBLEMS" WITH THE GOVERNMENT BECAUSE THEY BECOME "TOO
POLITICALLY INVOLVED." THE NUNS SAID LOCAL AUTHORITIES
ROUTINELY REVIEW THEIR PUBLIC ACTIVITIES, FOR EXAMPLE,
REQUIRING PRIOR PERMISSION FOR MEETINGS OUTSIDE THE CONVENT.
HOWEVER, THEY SAID THERE HAVE NOT BEEN RESTRICTIONS ON THE
DAY-TO-DAY WORSHIP OF THEIR FAITH WITHIN THE CONVENT, WHICH
IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THEM THAN POLITICAL ACTIVISM.

GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS SERVE TO CONTROL CHURCH GROWTH
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4.(SBU) CATHOLICS IN LAM DONG PROVINCE ARE FREE TO WORSHIP
AND PRACTICE THEIR RELIGION WITHOUT INTERFERENCE. FATHER VO
DUC MINH, RECTOR OF DALAT CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL AND CHIEF
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DALAT DIOCESE, TOLD CONOFFS THAT A
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 01272 01 OF 03 130924Z
TOTAL OF ABOUT 500 VIETNAMESE CATHOLICS ATTEND THE TWO
MASSES HELD AT THE CATHEDRAL DAILY, WHILE A TOTAL OF ABOUT
5000 ATTEND THE FIVE MASSES HELD EVERY SUNDAY. HE CLAIMED
THERE ARE ROUGHLY 250,000 CATHOLICS IN THE PROVINCE, ABOUT
25 PERCENT OF THE TOTAL POPULATION OF ABOUT 1.2 MILLION. HE
SAID MOST ETHNIC MINORITIES IN LAM DONG PROVINCE (OUT OF A
TOTAL MINORITY POPULATION ESTIMATED AT 125,000) ARE
CATHOLIC.

5.(SBU) FATHER MINH SAID CATHOLIC CHILDREN, BOTH VIETNAMESE
AND ETHNIC MINORITY, CAN LEARN THE CATHOLIC FAITH AND ARE
FREE TO STUDY THE BIBLE. HE EXPLAINED THERE IS VERY LITTLE,
IF ANY, GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE IN THE DAY-TO-DAY WORSHIP OR
RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES OF ORDINARY CATHOLIC CITIZENS. HE ALSO
SAID THERE IS LITTLE DISCRIMINATION IN DAILY LIFE FOR
ORDINARY BELIEVERS, ALTHOUGH CATHOLICS DO NOT USUALLY REACH
THE VERY TOP LEVELS, WHICH ARE CONTROLLED BY THE COMMUNIST
PARTY. MINH SAID THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH AND THE GVN ARE ADMINISTRATIVE AND ORGANIZATIONAL IN
NATURE. FOR EXAMPLE, THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN DALAT (AS
ELSEWHERE IN VIETNAM) CONTROLS THE TOTAL NUMBER OF
SEMINARIANS AND THE NUMBER OF NEW PRIESTS THAT CAN BE
ORDAINED. ALSO, THE GOVERNMENT IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON THE
MOVEMENT OF CLERGY, APPOINTMENT OF BISHOPS AND OTHER
ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH. ACCORDING TO FATHER
MINH, THESE ARE SMALL "ANNOYANCES" BUT THEY ADD UP OVER TIME
LIKE "DROPS OF WATER" AND SERVE TO RESTRAIN THE CHURCH'S
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.

LAM DONG CATHOLIC CHURCH "DISCREET" IN ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH
LOCAL AUTHORITIES
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6.(SBU) LAM DONG PROVINCE AVOIDED THE ETHNIC MINORITY
DISTURBANCES THAT TOOK PLACE EARLIER THIS YEAR IN DAKLAK AND
GIA LAI PROVINCES (REFTEL A), ALSO IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS.
FATHER MINH SAID THIS WAS, IN PART, DUE TO THE MORE ACTIVE
EFFORTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LAM DONG TO ASSIST ETHNIC
MINORITIES. HE SAID CATHOLIC CLERGY IN LAM DONG VISIT
ETHNIC MINORITY COMMUNITIES REGULARLY BUT "DISCREETLY" TO
PREACH THEIR FAITH AND PERFORM CATHOLIC SERVICES. HE ALSO
SAID THAT THE LAM DONG CATHOLIC CHURCH IS MORE COOPERATIVE
AND LESS "ANTAGONISTIC" IN ITS DEALINGS WITH LOCAL
AUTHORITIES THAN THE CHURCH IN OTHER PROVINCES, ALTHOUGH HE
STRESSED HE DID NOT WANT TO CRITICIZE THE ACTIVITIES OF
VIETNAMESE CHURCH LEADERS ELSEWHERE. HE SAID THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH ADVOCATES REFORMS IN LAM DONG, BUT DOES SO IN A NON-
CONFRONTATIONAL MANNER, AND THERE HAS BEEN GRADUAL PROGRESS
WITH THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ON A VARIETY OF ISSUES (SUCH AS
THE APPOINTMENT OF BISHOPS).

7.(SBU) FATHER MINH CONTRASTED THIS A BIT WITH THE
PROTESTANT COMMUNITY, WHICH HE FINDS MORE CONFRONTATIONAL.
HE MENTIONED THAT MANY PROTESTANT PASTORS AND LAY PEOPLE
LEFT VIETNAM AFTER 1975, WHILE MOST CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND
CLERGY IN LAM DONG REMAINED TO SERVE THEIR COMMUNITIES.
THIS LEFT MANY PROTESTANT BELIEVERS "LIKE LOST SHEEP WITHOUT
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 01272 02 OF 03 130925Z
A SHEPHERD," HE CLAIMED, AND THEY HAVE OVER TIME TAKEN A
MORE ACTIVIST APPROACH TOWARDS DIFFERENCES WITH THE
GOVERNMENT. MINH, SPEAKING PERSONALLY, SAID HE FINDS THIS
STYLE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. HE ADDED, HOWEVER, THAT IT IS
VERY HARD NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN VIEW
OF THE SERIOUS SUFFERING UNDERGONE BY MANY CATHOLICS AND
PROTESTANTS IN THE PERIOD AFTER 1975, NOTING THE SITUATION
HAD IMPROVED SIGNIFICANTLY BY THE EARLY 1990'S.

8.(SBU) NOTE: WHILE FATHER MINH AND, IN A SEPARATE
CONVERSATION, THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT BOTH TAKE CREDIT FOR
THE LACK OF ETHNIC MINORITY PROTESTS IN LAM DONG EARLIER
THIS YEAR, THE COMPLEX SITUATION FACING ETHNIC MINORITIES IN
THE PROVINCE DEFIES SIMPLE POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS
EXPLANATIONS. AS NOTED IN REF A, THE ISSUES SURROUNDING
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS' UNREST INCLUDE A WIDE VARIETY OF FACTORS,
INTER ALIA, MIGRATION, LAND DISPUTES, DISCRIMINATION,
ECONOMIC INEQUALITIES, RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES, EDUCATION
ISSUES AND OUTSIDE INFLUENCES. FATHER MINH EMPHASIZES THE
CHURCH'S EFFORTS AT QUIET DIPLOMACY. PROVINCIAL AUTHORITIES
STRESS THEIR ONGOING COMMITMENT TO EDUCATIONAL AND OTHER
DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES. BOTH ARE
PROBABLY PART OF THE PUZZLE, BUT EVEN TAKEN TOGETHER THEY DO
NOT SEEM ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN WHY LAM DONG HAS BEEN DIFFERENT
FROM OTHER CENTRAL HIGHLAND PROVINCES. END NOTE.

WEALTHY ZEN MONASTERY WITH VISIBLE "VIET-KIEU" CONNECTIONS
--------------------------------------------- -------------

9.(SBU) THE DALAT "TRUC LAM ZEN INSTITUTION" WAS ESTABLISHED
IN 1994 ABOUT 6 KM FROM DALAT CITY AND NOW REPRESENTS THE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 01272 02 OF 03 130925Z
LARGEST ZEN COMMUNITY IN VIETNAM (A MINORITY OF BUDDHISTS IN
VIETNAM PRACTICE ZEN ALTHOUGH CONOFFS COULD NOT OBTAIN
SPECIFIC FIGURES). MASTER THICH THANH TU, CHIEF OF THE ZEN
INSTITUTE, HAS ESTABLISHED NINE OTHER ZEN MEDITATION CENTERS
THROUGHOUT VIETNAM. ONE HUNDRED FIFTY ZEN BUDDHISTS, OF
WHICH EIGHTY ARE MEN, RESIDE AND PRACTICE AT THE INSTITUTE
NEAR DALAT. THE INSTITUTE ALSO TEACHES FOLLOWERS AND
STUDENTS ZEN MEDITATION AND PHILOSOPHY. VISITORS, INCLUDING
FOREIGNERS, ARE ALLOWED TO STUDY AT THE INSTITUTE, BUT THE
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROHIBITS FOREIGNERS FROM SPENDING THE
NIGHT ON INSTITUTE GROUNDS. FOREIGNERS MUST RETURN TO DALAT
AFTER BUSINESS HOURS ALTHOUGH THEY CAN VISIT THE INSTITUTE
AS OFTEN AS THEY LIKE.

10.(SBU) THE INSTITUTE RECEIVES NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING AND
ALL FUNDS ARE RAISED THROUGH PRIVATE DONATIONS BOTH
DOMESTICALLY AND ABROAD. THE NAMES OF PRIVATE DONORS THAT
CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY TO THE INSTITUTE ARE PAINTED ON
CONCRETE BENCHES, WHICH DOT THE INSTITUTE'S MANICURED
GROUNDS. CONOFFS NOTICED THAT MOST OF THESE BENCHES BEAR
THE NAMES OF AMERICAN "VIET-KIEU" (OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE)
DONORS. CONOFFS WERE TOLD MASTER THICH THANH TU WAS
VISITING THE INSTITUTE'S SAN DIEGO BRANCH (DAI DAC
MONASTERY). ASKED ABOUT GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS, ONE OF THE
MONKS INDICATED ZEN BUDDHISTS ARE FREE TO WORSHIP THEIR
RELIGION AND ARE NOT RESTRICTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, UNLESS
THEY ARE "INVOLVED IN POLITICS." HE IMPLIED SUCH ACTIVISM
WAS NOT THE ROLE OF THE BUDDHIST CHURCH IN LAM DONG.

COMMENT
-------

11.(SBU) IT IS DIFFICULT TO GENERALIZE FROM THE HANDFUL OF
RELIGIOUS LEADERS WE MET IN DALAT. THE BUDDHISTS WE
CONTACTED IN LAM DONG APPEAR TO BE TAKING A HANDS-OFF
APPROACH TO POLITICS BY FOCUSING PRIMARILY ON PRACTICING
THEIR FAITH AND AVOIDING DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICAL
ACTIVITIES. FATHER MINH SEES A CLEAR ROLE FOR THE CHURCH IN
INFLUENCING GRADUAL REFORM THROUGH DISCREET AND NON-
CONFRONTATIONAL EFFORTS. A COMMON THEME HERE -- WE HAVE
ALSO HEARD ELSEWHERE -- IS ONE OF RELATIVE FREEDOM FOR
RELIGIOUS WORSHIP AT THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL. RESTRICTIONS
OCCUR AT THE INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL AND INCREASE AS THE GVN
COMES TO VIEW RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES AS MORE ORGANIZED, MORE
PUBLIC AND ESPECIALLY MORE POLITICAL.

YAMAUCHI

UNCLASSIFIED

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