Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Committee On Religious Affairs On

DE RUEHHI #1340/01 2111510
R 301510Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


HANOI 00001340 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: Vietnam's point person on religion underscored
progress in improving religious freedom, but also admitted that
there is still work to be done. Vietnam plans to recognize a number
of additional religious groups, including the Baha'i Faith while
Protestant congregations in the Central Highlands have enjoyed
significant progress over the last year with over 1,000 new meeting
places registered. In his July 24 meeting with the acting head of
the Committee on Religious Affairs, the Ambassador pressed for
quicker GVN registration of Protestant congregations in the
northwest, GVN assistance in obtaining permission for churches to
train religious workers, and speedy publication of a H'mong-language
Bible to meet the needs of the numerous H'Mong Protestants. End

2. (SBU) The Ambassador met with Nguyen The Doanh, Vice Chairman of
the GVN Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), on July 24. (Note:
Doanh has been in charge of CRA since the retirement of Chairman Ngo
Yen Thi in March 2007. End note.) The Ambassador noted the
important work that has been done on religious freedom during his
three years in Vietnam. When the Ambassador started his posting,
Vietnam was on the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).
Vietnam is now off that list and the Ambassador said he was pleased
at how well the two sides have worked to create the progress that
led to this result. He underscored that there is still work to be
done, as President Bush noted in his June meeting with President
Nguyen Minh Triet in Washington.

Slow Pace of Church Registrations

3. (SBU) One year previously, the USG and the GVN had been engaged
in discussions concerning the registration of house churches
associated with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN) in
northern Vietnam, the Ambassador noted. At that time, there was
considerable progress in the Central Highlands but registrations in
the north and northwest of the nation were lagging. CRA Chairman
Thi and others had explained to IRF Ambassador Hanford that they
intended to facilitate registration of churches in the northwest as
soon as possible. The ECVN put forward more than 530 applications
before the GVN asked ECVN to stop, even though another 600
congregations had not yet applied. By the end of 2006, only some 30
were registered. Despite that low number, Vietnam was taken off the
CPC list with the expectation that registrations would continue. So
far, however, we understand that only 10 more have been registered.

4. (SBU) Doanh responded by noting that, while the ECVN claims there
are 500 congregations to be registered, meeting places and
congregations are "relative concepts." The GVN has not discussed
the definitional criteria with ECVN, but there must be a meeting
place for religious services with someone properly trained (or at
least literate) in charge. This need for clarification and setting
agreed definitions was slowing to some degree the process of
registration. The GVN will conduct at least four more training
sessions for local officials and four at the commune level in the
Central Highlands and Northwest Highlands in the coming months. The
Ambassador urged the GVN to directly engage the ECVN so pending
registrations can be resolved.

5. (SBU) Doanh noted that Protestant congregations under the
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) in the Central
Highlands have enjoyed significant improvements as a result of the
GVN helping local people and officials to understand the 2004
ordinance on religion. More than 1,000 congregations in the Central
Highlands have been registered, and 200 additional unaffiliated
meeting places have been registered with the help of local

6. (SBU) Doanh said that, by contrast, in the Northwest Highlands
the topography, local customs and lack of awareness among officials
and the broader society of the new policy regarding religion have
slowed the progress of registration. Thus far, 45 meeting places
have been registered in the northwest and the GVN hopes to register
another 45 by the end of the year. Now almost all the provinces in
the region have seen improvement with the exception of Son La
Province, according to Doanh. The Ambassador said he would add Dien
Bien Province as a problem area. He mentioned reports that
Protestantism has been denounced there by some local authorities as,
among other things, an "American" religion.

New Religious Groups Registered

HANOI 00001340 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) Doanh said that, in addition to Vietnamese Protestantism's
two main entities, the SECV and ECVN, five more Protestant entities
have been registered and another five will soon be registered for a
total of 10 new entities. While in total only six religions and 16
religious organizations have been recognized by the GVN, in the
"near future" a total of ten religions and 20 organizations will be
recognized in accordance with the ordinance, including the Baha'i
Faith, the Vietnam Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Grace Baptist
Church, the United World Mission Church, one faction of the
Mennonite church, and two smaller Buddhist groups - the Tu An Hieu
Nghia group and the Pure Land Buddhist Home Practice Association.
(Note: Post will follow up seeking details. End note.)

GVN Support for Training of Clergy

8. (SBU) The Ambassador said for the ECVN to train its religious
workers it needed permission for its workers to travel to Hanoi and
to upgrade its facilities for a Bible school there. Doanh agreed
training of clergy is also an important issue and said the GVN is
doing its best to help meet the demand. He agreed the ECVN's
facility in Hanoi is inadequate but said there is an issue of
ownership of the facilities between ECVN and the Hanoi Protestant
Church which must be resolved before the property can be improved.
In addition, the Catholic Church has six seminaries in Vietnam and
if the church would like to propose others the GVN is prepared to
consider them. Space has also been given in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
City for the construction of Buddhist training centers and to the
SECV in the south to set up Bible schools.

H'mong Bible Publication Faces Technical Hurdles
--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) The Ambassador noted the GVN had allowed the Bible to be
published in several ethnic minority languages but permission had
not been granted to ECVN to publish in the H'Mong language despite a
need from more than 114,000 H'Mong Protestants. Doanh said the
government does not wish to create obstacles for its publication in
the H'mong language, but there are technical difficulties. The
H'mong language has its own script, but there is now a new version
of the language using the Latin alphabet and the H'mong Bible would
use this alphabet. This new alphabet has not yet been accepted as
legal by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), which has
the lead on the issue.

10. (SBU) Doanh concluded that there have been significant
improvements on religious freedom in Vietnam and more will follow.
The Ambassador agreed that the meeting showed how important it is
for the Embassy staff to remain in close contact with the CRA in
order to keep abreast of developments.

11. (U) Comment: due to time constraints, the Ambassador could not
raise a number of Catholic Church-related issues. He told Doanh
that he would share those in a letter next week.


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