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Cablegate: Religious Issues in Danang

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 001240

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF, DRL, EAP/P

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS ISSUES IN DANANG

1. (SBU) Summary: During a visit to Danang September 30 and
October 1, religious leaders from GVN-recognized Catholic and
Protestant denominations painted a picture of provincial
leadership that is tolerant of organized religion. While
bemoaning their lack of "complete religious freedom," they told us
their situation is getting "easier everyday." Church leaders were
skeptical that the new religious ordinance would create major
improvements when it comes into effect on November 15, but neither
did they think that it would constrain their activities. A new
SECV initiative to train 600 new pastors in their local
jurisdictions is awaiting GVN approval. The apparent key to
church leaders' success in Danang is their effort to reach out to
local GVN leaders -- from the village level on up -- and to
demonstrate that they pose no threat to continued Communist Party
rule. In return for what appears to be largely pro forma
acknowledgments of Party authority, Church leaders are relatively
free to go about their business. End Summary.

2. (U) During the visit of CG and a ConGen HCMC team to Danang
September 30 and October 1, PolOff met with Pastor Nguyen The
Binh, Head of the Danang Southern Evangelical Conference of
Vietnam, and Father Tran Quoc Viet, a senior priest in the office
of the Danang and Quang Nam Bishop's diocese, to review the status
of the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Danang. Meetings with
local GVN officials and reporting on economic and consular issues
are covered septel.

The Danang Protestant Community
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) Pastor Nguyen The Binh, head of the Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV) chapter in Danang (strictly protect),
told us that the GVN-recognized Protestant community in Danang had
a positive relationship with local authorities. The Danang SECV
has not experienced limitations on its freedom to assemble and
worship -- the 10,000-strong SECV community routinely gathers
without incident in 11 GVN-sanctioned churches. The pastor added
that this past August, the local chapter of the SECV also
organized a 3-day region-wide conference that attracted some 4,000
believers, including ethnic minorities. According to the pastor,
the SECV did not have to seek permission from local authorities to
hold the conference, but merely had to "register" the activity
with the People's Committee and the local Committee for Religious
Affairs (CRA). In general, the Danang SECV notifies local
authorities with a list of its planned activities once a year.

4. (SBU) Pastor Binh told us that there has been some recent
movement in addressing his biggest concern: the shortage of GVN-
recognized pastors in Danang. Currently there are only 8 pastors
authorized to cover the 11 churches in the Danang SECV community.
According to the pastor, there is a pending agreement between the
GVN and the SECV to allow local SECV chapters to provide "in-
service" training for pastors in the provinces in lieu of sending
trainees to the SECV seminary in Ho Chi Minh City. (In practice,
these "trainees" have been working unofficially in local
communities already.) According to the pastor, Danang will
receive 10 of the 600 slots that the SECV national leadership
might be allocated for an in-service program.

5. (SBU) Separately, Tran Ngoc Du of the SECV National Board in
HCMC confirmed that the SECV in August submitted a proposal to the
GVN requesting approval for "in-service" training courses for 600
pastor-candidates now ministering unofficially in the 34 provinces
in which the SECV functions. The duration of the course would be
three months. According to Du, Danang province would receive 15
of those slots; the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai would be
granted 30 in-service training slots. The SECV anticipates a GVN
reply to its proposal by the end of 2004.

6. (SBU) Pastor Binh told us that he meets at least quarterly with
the local CRA. He characterized the CRA as accessible and his
meetings as relaxed and open. However, the CRA has not yet
briefed the SECV on the new religious ordinance, because, the
pastor believes, local authorities have not yet received
implementation instructions from Hanoi. The pastor does not
anticipate that the ordinance will bring significant changes to
what he says is a favorable relationship with the GVN. He is
concerned, however, that without uniform instructions, local
authorities elsewhere in Vietnam will continue to interpret rules
government religious practice as they please, perpetuating
problems where problems exist today.

7. (SBU) Also problematic was the local authorities refusal to
resolve satisfactorily issues of expropriated church property.
Pastor Binh said there were a number of properties in Danang that
the GVN expropriated post 1975. Discussions on compensation have
not been fruitful.

8. (SBU) Pastor Binh said that there is a small -- "few hundreds"
-- house church movement in Danang operating under the umbrella of
the hitherto unrecognized Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF).
Binh said that, as far as he was aware, these worshipers gather in
large groups every Sunday without incident or police harassment.
He added that two local VEF-affiliated churches recently
petitioned the GVN for recognition.

Catholic Church
---------------

9. (SBU) Father Tran Quoc Viet, a senior representative of the
Bishop of Danang and Quang Nam provinces (strictly protect) told
us that the situation today for the 60,000 Catholic believers was
far improved from a decade ago. The 70 priests in the diocese
were sufficient to minister to the faithful. Urban areas in the
diocese are particularly free from acrimony as local authorities
are more used to worshipers congregating in large numbers.

10. (SBU) Father Viet said that problems remain in the
countryside, particularly among police and especially in areas
where the Church is reaching out to new parishioners. He said
that even here there has been some progress. He related an
incident in which local Ministry of Public Security officials in
an ethnic-minority area of Quang Nam province sought to prevent
Church activity in the region. However, after two years of
dialogue and cajoling, he was able to win their acquiescence. The
key, he said, was that the police were reassured that the Church
activities were not designed to incite anti-Hanoi sentiments among
the Montagnards.

11. (SBU) Father Viet said that the new ordinance on religion
would do little to bring Vietnam to a "true state" of religious
freedom, which he defined as the pre-1975 status where the
Catholic Church was free of all state controls. Any progress
depended on the yet-to-be-issued implementation guidelines. The
Danang/Quang Nam diocese also was highly dissatisfied with the
GVN's nickel-and-dime approach to compensation of the Church
property expropriated in 1975. In his view, other dioceses,
particularly HCMC, have made more progress toward recovering or
being compensated fairly for expropriated property.

Comment: Lessons Learned
-------------------------

12. (SBU) The message from the GVN-recognized Christian community
in Danang was the most positive we have heard in southern Vietnam
thus far. What seems to set Danang apart from other provinces is
the good personal and institutional relationship between the
protestant and Catholic Churches and local authorities.

13. (SBU) The SECV's Vietnam roots are in Danang -- its mother
church was founded here in 1911 and the current SECV head
representative has been working with Danang authorities for over
30 years. Similarly, the Catholic Church is a known commodity and
familiarity breeds acceptance. Equally important, Danang church
leaders appear to have a taken a long-term approach to build trust
with local officials. Their view is that by showing some measure
of fealty to the State -- working through the system and assuaging
the paranoia of local leaders that they will use religion to
weaken the hold of the Communist Party -- they receive cooperation
and some measure of autonomy in return.


WINNICK

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