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Cablegate: Leader of the Hue Branch of the Outlawed United

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000650

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AEPEAP/BCLTV AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PGOV PHUM PREL SOCI KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: Leader of the Hue Branch of the Outlawed United
Buddhist Church of Vietnam (CONGEN MEETS HUE BUDDHISTS
DESPITE GVN INTERFERENCE


REPREF: 01 HANOI 1340, HANOI 2255, A) HCMC 0412, B) HCMC
0585

Summary
-------
1. (SBU) An influential leader of the Hue branch of the
outlawed UBCV discussed his views with DPO and A/PAO on the
current state of the Buddhist Church, the status of Thich
Huyen Quang, and the need for continued U.S. pressure on the
GVN to allow greater religious freedom. The meeting was
marred briefly by GVN attempts to first block the call on
the monks at their pagoda, then surveil the visit.

All Buddhists Are One, but U.S. Assistance Helps
--------------------------------------------- ---
2. (SBU) Summary: On June 17, 2003 Deputy Principal
Officer, U.S. Consulate General of Ho Chi Minh City, met
with DPO and A/PAO called on Thich Thien Hanh, leader of the
Hue Branch of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam
(UBCV), and his assistant Thich Phu Viet at the Bao Quoc
Pagoda in Hue last month. During their two-hour meeting,
the religious leader reiterated his organization's now
standard "line" that to discuss the UBCV's current status in
Vietnam, as well as the health and well being of Thich Huyen
Quang, leader of the UBCV currently under house arrest. End
Summary.most monks in Vietnam actually belong to the UBCV.
In his view, the UBCV and the officially recognized Vietnam
Buddhist Sangha (VBS) were divided artificially but were
still one. He also said more than 60 percent of the
population in Hue followed the UBCV, as opposed to roughly
40-50 percent of the population nationwide. This high
concentration of UBCV followers in Hue had always given the
local monks great influence within the organization. His
own Bao Quoc Pagoda had 26 monks, while the largest in the
area had 80. He also referred to 500 pagodas in Thua Thien-
Hue province and 200 in the city of Hue alone, although it
was unclear whether or not these were all UBCV. The last
new pagoda was built in 1981, the same year the UBCV was
outlawed.

3. (SBU) Thich Thien Hanh said he had seen conflicting
signs of change in the GVN's attitude towards religious
freedom. There were no restrictions on individuals
practicing their religion or discussions within the UBCV
pagodas. There were currently no UBCV monks or believers in
the Hue area facing detention and no domestic travel
restrictions. He noted, however, that international travel
remained difficult, citing a member of the UBCV who was
denied permission to travel to China in 2001 as the most
recent specific case. There were also restrictions on
building new pagodas. His main concern remains legalizing
the status of the UBCV.

4. (SBU) According to Thich Thien Hanh, the GVN was
worried that a "legalized" UBCV might develop into a
political party challenging the authority of the Communist
Party (CPV). Asked directly about the possibility of
working within the current legal framework of the GVN, Thich
Thien Hanh felt it would be difficult, but might be
possible. His assistant seemed even more skeptical. Even
so, Thich Thien Hanh called on the USG to aid in the UBCV's
quest for legal recognition within Vietnam. He repeated
this several times and stated explicitly that it was his
only request, although he also hoped the U.S., as a
permanent member of the United Nations Security Council,
would continue working to persuade the GVN to respect human
rights in accordance with its UN obligations.

Thich Huyen Quang
-----------------
5. (SBU) Based on reports from a Hue monk who had just
returned from Quy Nhon, UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang
(ref A) was in good health. Monks were allowed to visit him
freely and speak with him privately and UBCV and VBS had
gone jointly to see him. While he remained unrestricted in
his ability to travel, he was required to have a GVN escort
at all times. Thich Thien Hanh briefly recounted the
Patriarch's visit to Hue in April 2003, noting that 3,000 to
4,000 people had turned out to greet him upon his arrival.
As the visit had been approved by the GVN in advance, there
had been no negative reaction from the local authorities.

External Relations Still Sensitive
----------------------------------
6. (SBU) Shortly before the meeting was scheduled to
begin, an FSN from the HCMC Public Affairs staff was called
in to speak with the Director of the Hue Office of External
Relations (ERO), Mr. Chau Binh Nguyen. Mr. Nguyen advised
PAS FSN that he was aware of a meeting "at a pagoda" and
that ConGen officers should not hold the meeting because it
had not sent a diplomatic note requesting permission. DPO
explained that the agreement between the USG and GVN -- the
same agreement that theoretically binds their officers in
San Francisco to notify us of their travel outside of that
city -- required prior notification (not permission) for
official meetings with government officials. After checking
with Thich Thien Hanh -- who seemed genuinely surprised that
the ERO knew we were coming but clearly wanted the meeting
to proceed regardless -- DPO decided to hold the meeting as
planned.

7. (SBU) ConGen drivers indicated there were police
present when the DPO and APAO arrived at the pagoda,
although they were not clearly visible and made no attempt
to stop the meeting. When ConGen officers left, however,
they observed a handful of individuals who appeared to be
plainclothes police within the compound, and several police
cars with uniformed police standing just outside the gate.
ConGenoffs did not observe any police following them from
the pagoda. In a follow-up call the next day, the monks at
the pagoda reported no problems after the meeting. Mr.
Nguyen continued to express his concern that the meeting had
taken place without a dip note which he could share with the
local Committee on Religious Affairs.

Comment
-------
8. (SBU) Despite the free and open exchange with Thich
Thien Hanh, including his own generally positive
pronouncements on the continuing ability of the UBCV to
practice their religion and attract followers, the actions
of the provincial leadership illustrate the ongoing official
paranoia over unrecognized religious groups. There is also
a more general pattern of provincial authorities seeking to
"approve" all ConGen meetings in their localities. The Hue
ERO's argument that we needed a diplomatic note due to Thich
Thien Hanh's status as a religious leader was disingenuous
at best, given that the Vietnamese government does not
recognize the UBCV as a religion. On the bright side, even
though Mr. Nguyen remained adamant about the need for a dip
note, he stressed that the ConGen could hold its meeting
without a GVN presence.

WHITE

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