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Cablegate: Ambassador Meets with Ubcv Leader Thich Huyen Quang

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 000572

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH UBCV LEADER THICH HUYEN QUANG

REF: 03 HCMC 1010 and previous

1.(SBU) Ambassador Burghardt called on the Most Venerable Thich
Huyen Quang, Patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of
Vietnam (UBCV), on April 28. The meeting, which lasted over one
hour, was held outside Quy Nhon at the Nguyen Thieu Pagoda,
founded in 1948 by Thich Huyen Quang himself, where he is
currently being held under virtual house arrest. Binh Dinh
Provincial authorities had previously agreed, after some
negotiation, to the Ambassador's request for a private visit.
Although local officials accompanied the Ambassador to the site,
they did not attempt to join the meeting. Thich Huyen Quang, who
is 86, appeared in strong spirits, but seemed somewhat frail and
weaker than when the Ambassador met him last year in Hanoi. He
was strong enough to rise and greet his visitors, and he walked
them to the door when they departed. The Ambassador was
accompanied by Mrs. Burghardt, his daughter Helen, and HCMC
Econoff.

2.(SBU) Thich Huyen Quang confirmed that he has been prevented
from leaving the pagoda since the incident last October when he
was stopped from traveling to Ho Chi Minh City with several other
UBCV monks a few weeks after holding an "unauthorized" meeting of
the UBCV leadership (Reftel). He said one attempt to travel to
nearby Quy Nhon City was thwarted by law enforcement officers
stationed around the monastery who blocked his vehicle. Although
Thich Huyen Quang said he has not been given a reason for being
restricted to his pagoda, he is aware that Vietnamese authorities
claim he was found with "secret documents" when his vehicle was
stopped in October. He reported that a Deputy Minister of Public
Security - which indicates the high level of attention being given
to his case - called on him at the Pagoda and alleged that UBCV
believers had passed him the "secret documents." Thich Huyen
Quang said he had received two envelopes from believers - each
with donations of VND 500,000 (about 33 usd). He had checked the
contents himself and only money was inside. He had written to the
Deputy Minister stating his case, but had not received a reply.
He added, however, that all questioning and interrogations
regarding this matter seemed to have stopped. The Ambassador
observed that no one outside Vietnam believed Thich Huyen Quang
had possessed secret documents.

3.(SBU) In a somewhat surprising comment, Thich Huyen Quang told
the Ambassador that it was "not difficult" to unify his dissident
Buddhist organization with the government-approved Buddhist Church
of Vietnam. "The majority" were in favor of such a move, he said,
but "a small influential group" did not wish this to happen. When
the Ambassador asked what kind of relationship the new
organization would have with the GVN and the Fatherland Front,
Thich Huyen Quang enigmatically stated that he did not know, since
he did not know who would lead the organization. Going further,
he said neither the head of the Religious Affairs Commission in
Hanoi nor the current leader of the government-approved Buddhists
would be able to help him effect a merger. He wished to travel
once again to Hanoi to meet with the Prime Minister directly on
this issue. (Note: Without more details about how the merger
would occur, it is difficult to tell if Thich Huyen Quang was
speaking of an actual plan or a more theoretical possibility.)

4.(SBU) Commenting on his current situation, Thich Huyen Quang
appeared comfortable and said he was teaching about a hundred
students staying at the pagoda and another 200 students from
elsewhere. Several monks and novices tend to his needs, but all
left the room during the meeting except for one assistant who
remained throughout. In a moving short monologue as the
Ambassador prepared to leave, Thich Huyen Quang thanked the U.S.
Government, Congress, and the people of the United States for
helping him. He said he was both "surprised and moved that a
faraway country understands what is going on here." The
Ambassador presented Thich Huyen Quang with a book of photographs
of the United States and assured him that the book did not contain
any "secret documents," only "pretty pictures." The Ambassador
expressed the hope that he would see Thich Huyen Quang in Hanoi
before too long on a trip to meet with the Prime Minister and
even, perhaps, one day in the U.S.

5.(SBU) The meeting was facilitated by the Binh Dinh Provincial
authorities who, after some negotiation, agreed to a private visit
between the Ambassador and the UBCV leader. In a meeting with the
Chairman of the Provincial People's Committee the day before, the
Ambassador received a lengthy briefing detailing all of the
boilerplate arguments that Vietnam traditionally makes on
religious freedom issues. The Chairman stressed that he had
"invited" Thich Huyen Quang to return to his home province and
that Binh Dinh tried to create positive conditions for the
practice of religion. This strong public display of towing the
line, which the Chairman made before local journalists and all of
his department heads, was probably designed to give him some
political cover to facilitate a private meeting between the
Ambassador and one of Vietnam's best known dissident religious
leaders.
WHITE

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