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Cablegate: Partial Demolition of Mennonite Pastor's Home

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

201535Z Jul 05

ACTION EAP-00

INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AID-00 CIAE-00 INL-00 DODE-00 DS-00
FBIE-00 UTED-00 VC-00 H-00 TEDE-00 INR-00 LAB-01
VCE-00 NSAE-00 NIMA-00 EPAU-00 PA-00 PM-00 SP-00
SSO-00 SS-00 FMP-00 EPAE-00 PMB-00 DSCC-00 PRM-00
DRL-00 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 SWCI-00 /001W
------------------1852B4 201548Z /38
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1794
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000762

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: PARTIAL DEMOLITION OF MENNONITE PASTOR'S HOME

REF: 04 HCMC 823

1. (SBU) Summary: HCMC District 2 authorities demolished a
portion of imprisoned Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang's (ref A)
home July 19. Local authorities state that the home violated
zoning laws and that the forced demolition was in accordance with
the law. Poloffs stressed at the neighborhood, city and central
levels that the international community may see this action as
religious persecution and that the demolition may harm U.S.-
Vietnam bilateral relations. Acting CG made the same points to
the HCMC External Relations Office (ERO). The city and central
authorities understood these points but neighborhood officials
would not move past the narrow focus of the zoning laws. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) HCMC Poloffs were inundated by phone calls and e-mails
July 19 from religious leaders and neighbors of imprisoned
Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, reporting the demolition of a
portion of his HCMC home by local authorities. Poloffs traveled
to District 2 where the Quang family resides but arrived at the
home after the property had been pulled down. Approximately 37
square meters, mostly what the authorities regard as illegal
portions, of Quang's home were demolished.

3. (SBU) Pastor Quang's wife, Ms. Dung Phu Thi Le, stated that
local authorities arrived at 7 am, escorted by police and firemen.
They read a citation describing the building violation and began
the process of tearing the back of the house down. She claims
that she had been notified of the violation in 2002 and 2004 but
that it was for a smaller portion of the home than what was torn
down. (Note: The documents given to Poloffs by Le indicate that
all of the portion of the structure demolished was in violation of
zoning laws. End note.) Both administrative notices gave
approximately 10 days to remove the structure. Ms. Le also
received a warning in August 2002 informing her that the back
portion of the home would be "forcibly removed." However, no GVN
action was taken at the time. Ms. Le said that she had discussed
the structure frequently with local authorities and disagrees that
it is illegal. In January 2005, she sent a letter to the People's
Committee noting her objection. She asserts that the back of the
house is a non-permanent structure and was built to keep water
from the stream, which runs behind the home, from entering the
dwelling.

4. (SBU) Ms. Le believes that this action was taken because a
neighbor, who is the local representative for the GVN authority,
has a money dispute with Pastor Quang and has lobbied district
authorities for the demolition. In addition to the neighbor's
influence, local authorities have tried to discourage religious
meetings in the home.

5. (SBU) Poloffs met with the District 2 People's Committee
subsequent to the meeting with Ms. Le. Despite our unannounced
arrival, District 2 personnel agreed to meet with us. The Vice
Chief of Staff stated that he was at the home prior to the
demolition and had read the citation to Ms. Le. He added that
authorities had given Quang and Le ample notice, pointing to the
administrative notices of 2002 and 2004. The Vice Chief noted
that he had met with Le on June 28 and told her that the structure
would be removed in 15 days. He stressed that this action had
become necessary because of the complaints lodged by the
neighbors. Many had to remove illegal portions of their homes and
had criticized authorities for allowing Le to maintain the home
addition. He emphasized that this was not the destruction of a
church but rather the razing of illegal construction attached to a
private citizen's home.

6. (SBU) Poloff noted the zoning violation but expressed concern
over the local authorities' actions to demolish the home addition
in the shadow of the new Ordinance on Religion. It is well known
that the home is used for a place of worship by the Mennonites and
this event did not show goodwill or the facilitation of religious
practices in house churches. While the GVN may contend that it
was an administrative procedure, the international community may
view it as religious repression. Giving visibility to this house
church in the context of such a demolition would harm the
bilateral relationship, which is something both the GVN and USG
want to avoid.

7. (SBU) Acting CG raised the demolition with the Ho Chi Minh City
External Relations Office July 20. While acknowledging that there
was an outstanding zoning issue, the Acting CG stressed that since
this home is used by religious followers, its partial demolition
will be viewed outside Vietnam as the destruction of a place of
worship. Citing the recent progress of the GVN in implementing
religious reforms to address concerns raised when Vietnam was
designated a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom,
the Acting CG also requested that ERO flag for District 2
authorities the image the demolition would convey to the
international community and the implications for bilateral
relations in the aftermath of PM Khai's visit and as Vietnam

strives for WTO accession. The ERO representative expressed
understanding of this point and also noted the need for Vietnamese
authorities to be sure they act in accordance with the law and can
explain the basis for their actions.

8. (SBU) Hanoi Poloff raised the issue of Pastor Quang's house
July 19 with Le Dzung, Acting Section Chief, America's Department,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dzung said he had not heard about
the incident, but agreed that it is possible that international
observers would perceive the action as some sort of punishment
regardless of the legal legitimacy of the action. He promised to
report the issue to the MFA's leadership. Poloff also spoke July
19 with Lt. Col Nguyen Tuyen of the Ministry of Public Security,
making the same points. Tuyen said he understood the USG's
concern and would find out more about the case. July 20, a more
senior officer from MPS contacted Poloff to explain that the
demolition at Quang's house was legal and done according to a
plan, which had been communicated "some time earlier." The
illegal construction at Quang's house is in "a designated
municipal development area," the MPS officer explained. "Other
residences in the vicinity with similar illegal construction were
torn down already," he added. MPS had consulted with the HCMC
People's Committee that morning, the officer said, and found out
that a ConGen officer had been there and asked questions. "We
confirmed that the People's Committee is acting according to the
law," the MPS officer said.

9. (SBU) Comment: The administrative notices shared with Poloffs
indicate that additions to Pastor Quang and Ms. Le's home violated
zoning laws and that appropriate administrative procedures were
taken prior to the forced demolition of a portion of the home -- a
point on which local authorities base their insular view of the
issue. While HCMC ERO and central authorities are more astute --
the rare intervention of senior MPS officials with local
authorities reflected the GVN's desire to avoid misunderstandings
-- it is not clear what impact outside authorities will have on
the future actions of District 2 officials dealing with the
Quangs.

CHERN


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