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Cablegate: Vietnam: First National House Church Registered

VZCZCXRO4249
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1055 2581052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151052Z SEP 06
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1465
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 1027
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 1534

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001055

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF PINR VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAM: FIRST NATIONAL HOUSE CHURCH REGISTERED

1. (SBU) Leaders of the Danang-based United World Mission Church
(UWMC) told us on September 15 that the national Committee for
Religious Affairs (CRA) had issued nationwide registration for
their organization. The date of the CRA promulgation was
September 1, 2006, although HCMC authorities only received
formal notification on September 15. (The UWMC had applied for
registration soon after Vietnam's legal framework on religion
came into effect in March 2005.)

2. (SBU) We subsequently spoke with our CRA contacts, who
explained that the GVN decided to accelerate the process and
register the UWMC nationally, despite the fact that
local-registration had not yet been completed. The GVN decided
to take this step as some jurisdictions were dragging their feet
due to the "lack of awareness of local officials." (The UWMC
has a robust house church presence in the Central Highlands,
especially in the province of Kontum. We have received some
recent reports that a few UWMC house churches in Kontum and in
Dak Lak province continued to face some harassment.) According
to the legal framework, the UWMC is eligible to apply for legal
recognition after one year of "stable operation."

3. (SBU) A CRA official told us that the UWMC has been
registered in the 14 provinces and cities in which it currently
operates, including all the provinces in the Central Highlands.
The CRA also has told us that national-level registration has
been granted for a small Buddhist sect Tu An Hieu Nghia (the
Four Gratitudes), based in the Mekong Delta's An Giang province.
On September 27, the CRA will register a second Buddhist sect
based in HCMC. Reportedly, following these three "pilot"
national-level registrations more are to follow, including the
Baha'i based in HCMC and a small Cao Dai sect.

4. (SBU) The HCMC CRA noted that it does not expect to issue any
additional city-wide registrations in the next two months,
pending the completion of ongoing registration efforts at the
local level. Our contact noted that once local level
registration was granted for a particular house church, that
church would have legal rights to operate, even if its parent
provincial organization had not yet been registered by the city.
Our contact added that all Protestant house church
organizations based in HCMC have been invited to register under
this plan, including the Mormons and the controversial house
church group of Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang.

5. (SBU) Comment: The national registration of the UWMC is
significant and positive development. It marks the first
national-level legalization of any Protestant organization since
the recognition of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam in
2001. It also is a departure from the bureaucratic approach the
CRA had taken on registration. Until now, the CRA had insisted
that all local-level and provincial-level registrations be
completed before national registration could be contemplated.
The UWMC, non-controversial politically and based in Vietnam
since 1922, was a safe start. At this point it should be clear
to all local officials -- even in harderline areas of the
Central Highlands -- that the UWMC is off limits for harassment.
Other groups that have applied for and await registration
approval includes the Mormon church. The registration of the
UWMC should encourage other house church organizations to
accelerate their registration efforts. End Comment.

WINNICK

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