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Cablegate: New Developments in the Hoa Hao Community

VZCZCXRO9259
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0902 2260428
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140428Z AUG 06
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1287
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 1353
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 0907
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000902

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PREF KIRF PGOV VM
SUBJECT: NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE HOA HAO COMMUNITY

REF: HCMC 630 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) We met twice in June and July with Le Phuoc Sang,
Chairman of the Central Executive Council of the Hoa Hao
Buddhist Church based in Garden Grove, California. Sang was a
leader of the Hoa Hao community before 1975 but fled to the U.S.
before the fall of Saigon. According to Sang, after being a
"fierce opponent" of the Communist Party for decades, he decided
to work for reconciliation and the "stabilization and
development" of the Hoa Hao community in Vietnam. Sang said he
first returned to Vietnam in February 2006 to hold preliminary
talks with the GVN. At that time, he was not allowed to travel
to the Mekong Delta to consult with the Hoa Hao community. When
he returned in June, however, he was warmly welcomed by the GVN.
He was received by then-President Tran Duc Luong and the
outgoing Chairman of the Fatherland Front Pham The Duyet. He
also was allowed to travel to the Mekong.

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2. (SBU) Sang said that in his meetings with GVN officials, he
had proposed three major initiatives:

-- The establishment of a National Institute for Hoa Hao
Buddhist Studies which would train Hoa Hao clergy. The
Institute would be located in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.
(Sang was director of the Hoa Hao University in An Giang
province before 1975.)

-- The creation of a Foundation for Hoa Hao Charities based in
Vietnam that would coordinate domestic and international
charities to improve conditions for the Hoa Hao community in
Vietnam.

-- The opening of a branch of Westland University in Can Tho to
offer training in a wide range of fields. According to Sang,
Westland University was licensed by Washington State in 2004 and
has a campus in California. Sang is affiliated with the
University.

3. (SBU) Sang said that GVN officials supported these ideas. He
noted that Can Tho City had offered him 20 hectares of land for
a Westland University campus and had invited the University's
administrators to visit the city for further discussion.

4. (SBU) Sang said that he had told the GVN that he rejected
the radical approach of Hoa Hao activist Le Quang Liem. He had
proposed ideas to resolve conflict between the GVN and the Hoa
Hao community. He said he had advised the GVN to restructure
the GVN-recognized Hoa Hao Executive Council and elect a new
slate of leaders mutually acceptable to the GVN and the Hoa Hao
community. He had pushed the GVN to remove the ban on the Hoa
Hao community's use the Hoa Hao religious flag, to publish the
full writings of the Hoa Hao founder, to allow the Hoa Hao to
commemorate the founder's disappearance day, and to return
church property expropriated by the GVN. Sang estimated that
perhaps five to ten percent of the Hoa Hao community in the
Mekong Delta supported Liem.

4. (SBU) During one meeting, Sang introduced us to Huynh Van
Nong, a cousin of the Hoa Hao founder. He called Nong the
"legitimate successor" to the founder and a respected member of
the Hoa Hao community capable of voicing Hoa Hao grievances to
the GVN in a peaceful way.

5. (SBU) Meanwhile, the Hoa Hao group led by Le Quang Liem
announced the formation of a provincial representative board in
An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta. The group announced that
it would create a network of provincial representative boards in
key Hoa Hao centers. In early July, Liem's group also sent a
letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announcing that it was
planning to hold a ceremony on July 25 to commemorate the first
death anniversary of Tran Van Ut in Dong Thap Province in the
Mekong Delta. (Ut, a follower of Liem, committed suicide via
self-immolation in September 2005 during a police raid. Ut was
involved in an altercation with police in June 2005 during a
rally organized by Liem.) According to a reliable contact
within the Hoa Hao community, many members of the Hoa Hao
community in Dong Thap attended the family-run ceremony. Liem
did not attend and authorities did not intervene.

6. (SBU) Comment: Liem's faction sharply criticized Sang's
return to Vietnam as a betrayal of his anti-Communist roots and
the "true Hoa Hao faith." Whether or not Sang can emerge as a
constructive force within the fractured Hoa Hao community
remains to be seen; the GVN almost certainly remains suspicious
of his motives. Some of his proposals for compromise also are
difficult for the Party to accept. For example, while Sang's
call for allowing the Hoa Hao flag to be flown again may have
resonance for the Hoa Hao, its wartime symbolism would alarm
Party hardliners. End Comment.

WINNICK

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