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Cablegate: Ho Chi Minh City Buddhists (Official and Un-) Mark

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

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000751

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SCUL PGOV PREL SOCI KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: HO CHI MINH CITY BUDDHISTS (OFFICIAL AND UN-) MARK
BUDDHA'S BIRTHDAY


1. (U) Several thousand Buddhist believers joined hundreds of
Buddhist monks and nuns at a June 1 dawn celebration of the 2548th
anniversary of the Buddha's birth. The event featured speeches by
various leaders of the government recognized Vietnam Buddhist
Sangha (VBS) and local government officials, all of which included
mention of "fabrications" regarding alleged violations of
religious freedom. The speeches were followed by a brief Buddhist
ceremony and the release of birds and balloons into the early
morning sky over Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. The ceremony, which choked
traffic along the main artery leading from the airport to Ho Chi
Minh City's downtown area, was filmed by several news
organizations. Smaller ceremonies were held earlier in the week
at various pagodas throughout the city.

2. (U) Thich Tu Nhon, Standing Vice Chairman of the Central
Executive Committee of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS),
delivered a birthday message on behalf of Chairman Thich Tri Tinh.
His remarks focused on the history and significance of Buddhism,
but also mentioned the continued unity of the Vietnamese people
and religious groups, despite "fabrications by outside hostile
forces" about human rights and religious freedom problems. Thich
Tri Quang, Vice Chairman of the Central Executive Committee and
Chairman of the HCMC Executive Committee of the VBS, and Mr. Tran
Trung Tin, Vice Chairman of the Fatherland Front Committee of
HCMC, made similar remarks, with Mr. Tin adding several points
about the social contributions of the Buddhists to life in
Vietnam. Mr. Duong Quang Ha, Chairman of the People's
Mobilization Committee, represented the HCMC Communist Party
Committee, while diplomats from a few Asian countries and
representatives from Vietnam's other recognized religious groups
also occupied seats just below the Buddhist altar. Mr. Ha and Mr.
Nguyen Ngoc San, Chairman of the HCMC Committee for Religious
Affairs, did not speak during the celebration, but took the stage
briefly to present flowers to Thich Tri Quang. Shortly
thereafter, monks from each of the 13 sects affiliated with the
VBS, dressed in their own distinctive robes, participated in a
brief ceremony that included the chanting of Buddhist sutras and
the lighting of incense. At the end of the ceremony, Poloff and
the other special guests were invited to the front of the altar to
release balloons into the sky.

3. (U) Arriving at Vinh Nghiem at dawn, Poloff had an opportunity
to speak briefly with Thich Giac Toan, another Vice Chairman of
the Executive Committee of the HCMC Sangha, who asked to hear his
impressions of religious practice in Vietnam. Poloff told the
Buddhist leader that while it was gratifying to see large
celebrations such as this one, continued restrictions on
unrecognized religious groups would detract from any strides
Vietnam had made toward greater religious freedom in the eyes of
the world community. Thich Giac Toan noted that in every family,
there were always a few children "who did not want to listen to
their parents."

4. (SBU) Later that morning, the ConGen was able to follow up with
several leaders of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
(UBCV). At HCMC's Giac Hoa Pagoda, where recent press releases
from the UBCV's Paris-based International Buddhist Information
Bureau (IBIB) indicated that the electricity would be cut off in
May and up to 40 monks evicted, Thich Vien Dinh said the
government had not cut off electricity or evicted the monks in
this 10-year tug of war over who is actually the "legal" operator
of the pagoda. An early morning ceremony at Giac Hoa had been
well attended, he added, and went off without any government
interference. Thich Thien Hanh, of Bao Quoc Pagoda in Hue, said
many of his monks had participated in a big celebration at Tu Hieu
Pagoda early the same morning. While he himself was still under
restrictions and unable to leave his own pagoda, he and several
other monks had been able to hold their own special ceremonies
during the morning. He acknowledged that believers were still
coming to his pagoda to worship as normal. Thich Thai Hoa
confirmed that more than 2500 believers attended the celebration
at Tu Hieu, including monks from many other pagodas in Hue. He
also noted that the recognized Buddhist Church had held an
official celebration at Tu Dam Pagoda that morning. The monks
thanked the USG for its continued concern.
YAMAUCHI

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