Cablegate: Police Question Builder As Church Construction Continues

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





E. O. 12958: N/A

REF: HCMC 0520

1. (SBU) Mr. Le Van Dung, unofficial contractor for a Protestant
house church currently under construction in HCMC's District 2
(reftel), met with police this morning in response to a third
invitation to discuss his activities at the site. The first
invitation, delivered June 9, summoned him to discuss the "illegal
construction of a house church." The other two invitations
dropped the reference to any particular activities, so Mr. Dung
decided "to accept".

2. (SBU) A long-time ConGen Protestant contact, claiming to be
the legal representative of the new church, accompanied Mr. Dung
to the nearby offices of the local police investigative unit at
8:30 a.m. local time on June 17. While police prevented him from
sitting with his "client" during the 90-minute interview, the
contact was able to overhear the questioning from a vantage point
less than five yards away. He said the police concentrated almost
entirely on Mr. Dung's background -- family, education, and prior
work experience -- rather than on current efforts to build the
house church. Mr. Dung signed a report of the meeting before
returning to his home. As he departed, police said they would
soon tear down the house church.

3. (SBU) While construction continues unabated, efforts are
hampered by an inadequate supply of construction materials and a
lack of experienced workers. A handful of undercover police
officers maintain their watch over the project, but have not
interfered with the workers or the structure. During a recent
meeting to be reported septel, HCMC People's Committee Vice
Chairman Nguyen Van Dua told Consul General there is no regulation
allowing construction to proceed if local authorities fail to
respond to a building permit application within a specified
timeframe. In other words, there is no such thing as "tacit
approval." He did, however, acknowledge real problems in
enforcing regulations to prevent illegal construction in HCMC.

4. (SBU) Comment: This pastors vs. the police standoff has been
going on for over a week now. If the pastors are hoping to make a
point about religious freedom by engaging in construction without
a building permit, their assumption that they have some form of
"tacit approval" (reftel) may not, in fact, help their case. Post
will continue to monitor the situation.


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