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Cablegate: Mormons Make Bid for a Quiet Comeback in Hcmc

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 000784

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PGOV VM KIRF HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: MORMONS MAKE BID FOR A QUIET COMEBACK IN HCMC

REF: Hanoi 2153

1. (SBU) Summary: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints (LDS) has recently taken steps to reestablish a "branch" in
HCMC, pending approval of its June request to local government
officials that Vietnamese members be allowed to meet regularly on
Sundays. While efforts to receive recognition from the central
government have thus far failed, local LDS leaders hope that a
patient, apolitical approach will eventually help them expand
operations in Vietnam. LDS representatives in HCMC have asked
that this information be kept strictly confidential, citing past
setbacks in neighboring countries when such information has been
discussed openly in the State Department's Human Rights and
Religious Freedom reports. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Resident expatriate LDS leaders recently told ConGenoffs
they had lodged a formal request with HCMC officials in June
seeking permission to open a "branch" for Vietnamese members to
meet on a limited basis. (Note: A branch is the smallest possible
unit of organization within the LDS. Very few countries would
have just a single branch.) The LDS request carefully avoided
mention of religious rituals, and LDS officials have said they
would be satisfied to open a "church," rather than a "temple,"
despite the limits a lesser designation would place on performing
the sacraments. Ten Vietnamese members met Sunday, August 24 for
the first time within the framework of the new "branch" structure.
The branch is administered locally by a President and two
Counselors -- one for expatriates and one for Vietnamese. If the
HCMC government response is favorable, LDS plans to facilitate
funding from Salt Lake City to acquire a local meeting place.
According to LDS, the number of LDS members in Hanoi is apparently
insufficient to justify the same request at the national level.

3. (SBU) According to local LDS sources, the first post-war LDS
branch was closed down in 1996, after authorities learned that
volunteer LDS Charities English-language teachers were inviting
students over to their homes (including some who were not among
the cadre corps officially authorized to take lessons). At the
time, as many as 100 expatriates and Vietnamese routinely
gathered together to attend worship services every Sunday. The
unauthorized house visit incidents also resulted in LDS Charities
losing its NGO registration -- which has yet to be reinstated,
despite repeated requests. In the meantime, LDS has continued to
send small numbers of service missionaries, generally as volunteer
English teachers or medical workers. The regional Mission
President with responsibility for Vietnam has also continued to
visit from a nearby country.

4. (SBU) A local LDS leader acknowledged that the number of
members in Vietnam remains difficult to ascertain. Some believers
wanting to become members have traveled to Cambodia to be
baptized, then returned to Vietnam. Others who have attended LDS
meetings and studied the religious doctrine remain officially
outside of the LDS because they have not been baptized. (Note:
None of the LDS sacraments, including baptism, can be performed in
Vietnam in the absence of a legally established organization.)
Some undetermined number of members baptized before 1975 are also
still active. Expatriate members have always managed to meet
without interruption, but current numbers may be as low as 20 in
HCMC.

5. (SBU) LDS leaders have told ConGenoffs they believe "trust
building" is the most productive approach for receiving official
permission to conduct activities in Vietnam. By carefully
adhering to the parameters of whatever permission they receive
from local officials, they hope to convince the GVN that they are
not a threat to the country's political stability. Over time, the
LDS hopes this low-key approach will allow them to increase the
scope of their activities. Repeated requests for recognition
since 1994 to the Committee for Religious Affairs in Hanoi have
gone unanswered, according to these sources. At one point, LDS
was told that their application was being held for consideration
in Hanoi, pending a more comprehensive review of the laws on
religion.

6. (SBU) Comment: One Vietnamese LDS member told ConGenoffs he
had spoken to local police about a particular meeting location and
been told the police had "no problem" with members meeting there.
Whether that bodes well for official recognition or not is
anybody's guess, as district and ward officials probably have no
way to differentiate LDS from the myriad Protestant sects who
worship openly but "illegally" here. Whether this LDS group will
continue to be able to meet if official permission is denied in
the future, is a bigger question. While there would appear to be
fairly substantial contact between expatriate members and their
Vietnamese converts -- despite GVN prohibitions specifically
against LDS proselytization -- this should not be something we
publicize in the current environment.
YAMAUCHI

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