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Cablegate: Latest From Committee On Religious Affairs

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 HANOI 001081

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PREF VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: LATEST FROM COMMITTEE ON RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS

REF: A. STATE 82712 B. HO CHI MINH CITY 401
- C. HANOI 1007 D. HANOI 1006
- E. HANOI 770

1. (SBU) Summary. The Committee on Religious Affairs
(CRA) has sent its own officials to investigate recent
unrest in the Central Highlands, which it believes stemmed
mostly from land issues. UNHCR was also blamed for
encouraging Montagnards to flee into Cambodia. "Most"
Protestant congregations at least in Gia Lai should be
recognized by year's end. The ECVN should hold its long-
awaited congress in May as planned. The new ordinance on
religion is being revised to include greater protection for
traditional belief activities outside the main religions,
but also apparently is watering down a prohibition on forced
renunciations to a more bland proscription of
"discrimination." Ambassador urged greater access to all
types of religious leaders, including within the UBCV, and
the CRA promised to try to help to ensure the Ambassador
could meet with Thich Huyen Quang later this month. End
Summary.

Central Highlands
-----------------

2. (SBU) Ambassador, accompanied by Pol/C, met with CRA
Chairman Ngo Yen Thi on April 14 to discuss the situation in
the Central Highlands and other issues. Chairman Thi noted
that he had been to Dak Lak and Gia Lai in early April,
working with provincial officials on Protestant church
recognitions and a training course for Protestant preachers.
He disagreed with Ambassador's characterization of the GVN
response to the April 10-11 demonstrations as a "backwards
step" but admitted that these events could either cause new
delay in these positive steps -- or conversely could
stimulate faster action. He admitted that he did not yet
have full information on what had actually occurred over
Easter weekend, but said that he had sent CRA officials to
investigate and report back. He specifically said he did
not know about any deaths, but said he believed that there
had been some injuries, including of public security forces.
He said that it was "certain" that there had been arrests
for clear violations of GVN laws.

3. (SBU) According to available information so far,
Chairman Thi said that protests in Dak Lak and Gia Lai were
limited to the "village" -- not town -- level, mostly
incited by "young extremists" who joined peaceful
demonstrators. He noted that security forces had responded
to "acts of violence" against public works and other
buildings. He stressed that grievances seemed to stem
primarily from land issues. He cited the GVN policy of
trying to provide productive land for all citizens, as well
as support for building adequate housing, an expensive and
long-term effort made more difficult by past sales of land
by Montagnards and attempts to move to new locations.
Ambassador noted the influx of people from other areas to
engage in coffee plantations had exacerbated this situation,
but Thi insisted that the local minorities had sold their
lands, not had them seized.

4. (U) Thi admitted that religious life may have been a
secondary issue for the demonstrations, but blamed what he
called UNHCR's attempts to "organize illegal crossings" of
Montagnards to Cambodia as a factor as well. Ambassador
noted in contradiction that Cambodian police, often working
with Vietnamese authorities along the border, had been
increasingly effective over the past year in capturing would-
be asylum keepers and returning them to Vietnam.

5. (U) Ambassador expressed concern about three reported
house church closures so far in 2004 in Kontum, as well as
destruction without compensation of two church properties in
Gia Lai. Thi promised to look into these and other issues.
He predicted three new recognized Protestant congregations
in Gia Lai soon, in addition to four existing congregations,
as well as recognition of nine pastors and four preachers.
He pledged that "most" congregations would be recognized by
the end of the year. (Note: An April 14 "Nhan Dan" article
reported on a newly recognized congregation in Gia Lai as of
4/13, in addition to "eleven" existing recognized
congregations. The MFA spokesman on April 14 also used
these numbers of registered congregations in Gia Lai. End
note)

ECVN
----

6. (U) Thi predicted that the long-awaited 32nd General
meeting of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North would
likely take place as hoped in May. The CRA was still
waiting for a response from Haiphong about the remaining
issue of the congregation there, which was only a
"procedural" matter that the GVN had "urged" the locals to
settle.

Ordinance
---------

7. (U) Thi acknowledged the importance of moving forward
on passage of the ordinance on religion by the National
Assembly Standing Committee, which had examined it at its
last session. He did not specifically characterize the
NASC's comments (in lieu of passage) but noted needs to
"amplify" the Ordinance's coverage of "belief" activities
(i.e., local saints and spirits, village celebrations, etc.)
as well as activities by the recognized religions. He said
the goal was to ensure adequate coverage for all practices
and places of worship, as long as they do not disturb public
order or property and were properly registered. He said
that the Ordinance would definitely ban all sorts of
"discrimination" but that earlier language on forced
renunciations would be "broadened." He said that he had
raised this issue with officials in the Central Highlands,
who had a "low awareness" and who now more fully understood
GVN policy of respect for religion and non-discrimination.

Access to religious figures
---------------------------

8. (U) Ambassador cited at least six episodes in which
missionoffs had been barred from meeting religious figures
who were not under any formal detention, most recently in
Hue when trying to meet the UBCV's Thich Tien Hanh. Thi
said that some the Thich's "activities" had made local
authorities not want missionoffs to meet him, specifically
his links to Thich Quang Do.

9. (U) Ambassador noted that he hoped to meet with Thich
Huyen Quang during an April 27-28 visit to Quy Nhon, and
asked for Chairman Thi's assistance in ensuring there were
no problems. Thi noted that he had met again with Thich
Huyen Quang in early April, and had had a "cordial,
comfortable" talk. He predicted Ambassador would find Thich
Huyen Quang "interesting" and promised to try to use his
"influence." Ambassador also expressed a wish to meet with
Thich Quang Do in HCMC in the near future.
BURGHARDT

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