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Cablegate: Dcm Meets with Committee for Religious Affairs

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

100444Z Nov 04

UNCLAS HANOI 003047

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PREL RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: DCM MEETS WITH COMMITTEE FOR RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
CHAIRMAN THI

REF: A. SECSTATE 234238

B. HANOI 711

1. (SBU) On November 8, the DCM met with Committee for
Religious Affairs (CRA) Chairman Ngo Yen Thi to deliver
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John
Hanford's response to Thi's letter complaining about
Vietnam's designation as a Country of Particular Concern
(CPC) (ref A). (Note: Thi has recently resumed work after a
lengthy illness. End Note)

2. (U) After receiving the letter and listening to the DCM's
presentation of the U.S. Government's perspective, Thi spoke
very broadly about what he perceived as the differences
between GVN and USG attitudes towards regulating religion.
"You look at specific and localized incidents of abuses and
conclude that this Government does not protect religious
freedom," he said. "We do ensure religious freedom, but have
problems of implementation at the local level." Thi added
that some people in Vietnam had created "false or evil"
religions simply to gain followers, stressing that it is the
duty of the Government to protect people from this. The GVN
is determined to protect freedom of religion, and realizes
that there have been problems in some localities. However
before being able to correct these problems, the Government
must have a solid basis of law in effect, Thi explained, the
Ordinance on Religion and its implementing regulations, soon
to come into effect, will provide that basis. The DCM noted
that in the United States, the Government does not make
judgments about doctrine, but restricts individual members of
religious groups only when they break laws. "We do not start
out with the view that a specific religion is wrong based on
its teachings or beliefs," he told Thi.

3. (U) Responding to DCM's urging for fewer restrictions, Thi
noted developments on some specific issues. In the Central
Highlands, he said that provincial officials in Dak Lak and
Gia Lai had agreed with plans to begin training courses for
unlicensed preachers affiliated with the Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV). Both provinces are also
considering applications to open new SECV congregations, and
officials had recently provided land to two congregations in
each province to construct new churches. Further, officials
are encouraging groups of worshippers with too few members to
create an official congregation nonetheless to register their
places of worship. Thi added that the SECV is now recruiting
a new class for the SECV seminary in HCMC. He claimed that
the Evangelical Church of Vietnam: North (ECVN) is close to
holding a congress and that the only remaining issues are
internal disputes. (Note: The ECVN hopes to hold the long
delayed congress, its first in 16 years, in early December.
We understand that recent delays may be connected to CRA
attempts to influence the nominations of Church leaders. Ref
B. End Note) Finally, Thi said that there are "four or five"
unregistered Protestant organizations, as well as some other
"indigenous religious groups," for which the CRA is
considering official recognition.

4. (U) Comment: The GVN continues its slow advance to expand
the allowed scope of religion. However the Government
remains firm that this activity must take place within the
official administrative framework. Thi's view of religion as
a potentially dangerous entity which requires close oversight
is an interesting glimpse into the mindset of Vietnam's
leadership.
MARINE

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