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Cablegate: Protestants in Quiet Stand Off with Police Over New House

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

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000520

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

Department for EAP/BCLTV and DRL

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SOCI VM RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: PROTESTANTS IN QUIET STAND OFF WITH POLICE OVER NEW HOUSE
CHURCH


1. (SBU) A group of 50-100 Protestant believers has been working
around the clock for two days to construct a new (unrecognized)
branch church in HCMC, in defiance of local police and government
officials. The situation has remained peaceful thus far, but at
least one pastor on the scene has encouraged his followers to
physically resist any attempts to stop construction or disperse
the believers. Protestants working at the site say anywhere from
50 to 200 police and other local government officials have been
present at various times during the construction. They accuse the
government of employing undercover policemen and hired thugs in an
attempt to provoke a confrontation. Police allegedly interfered
with the shipment of construction materials -- taking custody of
at least one vehicle, though after the supplies had been removed
by the Protestant believers. Police have also allegdly warned
local merchants not to sell to the group. In spite of this,
construction of the prefabricated structure, which began at 5:00
am on June 9, is slated to be completed early on June 11 local
time. Some pastors at the scene took the initiative, contacted a
Time correspondent in Hanoi, and were interviewed by telephone
today.

2. (SBU) According to regular ConGen contacts in the Protestant
community, the new church is being constructed on a parcel of land
in District 2 owned by a GVN-recognized Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV) pastor from District 9. The government
ordered an earlier church on the same site demolished some years
ago, after which the congregation continued to worship outdoors
for several more months before the government finally clamped down
completely. Local authorities have allegedly denied numerous
written applications over the intervening years to build a new
structure on this site. The reason given is that while the
District 9 church has been recognized, a church on this District 2
parcel of land has neither been approved for construction nor as a
"branch" of the older church. Post's contacts admit that
officials at the ward level have apparently issued an order
explicitly denying permission to build and authorizing local
officials to remove any illegal construction. But they also claim
that the HCMC People's Committee and Committee on Religious
Affairs have recently given them some form of unwritten, informal
consent to proceed.

3. (SBU) A Protestant pastor not directly associated with the
new church told Poloff this evening that the law actually allows
construction to begin if the government fails to respond to an
application for a building permit within three weeks. ConGen is
unable to verify this assertion at this time, but this could be
the passive, informal "permission" on which these believers base
their case. In the meantime, this same pastor believes the police
are unlikely to crack down on such a large group out in the open.
YAMAUCHI

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