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Cablegate: Baptists, Mennonites Receive Official Gvn Recognition

VZCZCXRO5235
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1021/01 2761057
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031057Z OCT 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3194
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2218
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3403

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001021

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: BAPTISTS, MENNONITES RECEIVE OFFICIAL GVN RECOGNITION


HO CHI MIN 00001021 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Approximately three weeks before the U.S.
Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is
scheduled to arrive in Vietnam, the government of Vietnam has
granted national recognition to two more Protestant
denominations: the Mennonite Vietnam Church and the Vietnam
Baptist Convention. The GVN also announced plans to recognize
three other Protestant churches in the near future. Leaders of
these groups areQbeat about the developments, but uncertain
whether national recognition will help them settle long-standing
disputes over GVN-confiscated properties and whether local
officials will effectively implement the new change in policy in
Vietnam's more problematic provinces. End summary.

2. (SBU) On October 2, the Mennonite Vietnam Church and the
Vietnam Baptist Convention held a joint ceremony in Ho Chi Minh
City (HCMC) to receive certificates of registration for their
national operations. Deputy Chief of the National Committee for
Religious Affairs (CRA) Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Chief of the
Protestant Affairs Section Nguyen Van Thong, and representatives
of the HCMC Fatherland Front and People's Committee attended the
ceremony. The ceremony was well-covered by the state-run media,
including a primetime four-minute report on national television.

FROM GUERILLA GROUP TO CONVENTIONAL CHURCH

------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Pastor Nguyen Thong, leader of the Vietnam Baptist
Convention (which has denominational ties to the U.S. Southern
Baptist Church) said that he is very happy about the national
recognition, which will enable his church to print religious
materials and organize theological courses to train new pastors
and evangelists. Thong said he hopes to open a new headquarters
for his church in HCMC soon, and looks forward to organizing the
Baptists' first official general conference in August next year
to mark the 20th anniversary of the church's establishment in
Vietnam. Pastor Thong described his church's path to
recognition as the "transformation from guerilla to conventional
activities" and was enthusiastic about planning this year's
first Christmas celebration in a big local restaurant. In
describing his collaboration with the GVN, Pastor Thong said
that the Committee on Religious Activities gave him more that
he'd asked for.

4. (SBU) Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, leader of the Mennonite
Vietnam Church, which registered locally March 2006, said
national recognition is a positive development but noted that he
would wait until his church gets its status as a fully
recognized legal entity before proceeding with the printing and
publication of religious material. [Note: According to the GVN
legal framework on religion, a church has to wait at least one
year after national recognition to organize a general
conference, and another year after that to get full legal
status, or status as a "legal person." End note.] Pastor Trung
also mentioned that only after his church receives legal person
status would he push more aggressively for the return of church
properties that the GVN confiscated shortly after 1975.

MORE CHURCHES IN LINE FOR RECOGNITION

-------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Both pastors said the application process for national
recognition was in line with the GVN legal framework, and that
they had effective communication with the CRA throughout the
process. They said the next immediate step for their churches
is to complete local registration for all of their
congregations. (Note: By July of this year, the Mennonite Church
had registered 50 of its 112 local congregations, while the
Vietnam Baptist Convention registered a smaller number of its
congregations. End note.) The pastors said they also plan to
expand training of clergy.

6. (SBU) Nguyen Van Thong, Chief of Protestant Affairs for the
Southern National CRA office, said the GVN is also in the
process of national recognition for three additional
Protestestant churches--the Assembly of God, the Presbyterian
Church and the Vietnam Christian Inter-Fellowship. Leaders of
these groups said they hope to be granted national recognition

HO CHI MIN 00001021 002.2 OF 002


by the year's end.

7. (SBU) Comment: These positive developments take place three
weeks prior to the visit of the U.S. Commission for
International Religious Freedom and suggest that outside
pressure is helping to speed up the recognition/registration
process for churches in Vietnam. While it took the Mennonite
Vietnam Church 18 months-from September 2004 to March 2006-to
have their local congregation registered, it took only 60 days
for the Vietnam Baptist Convention to get national recognition
this year. Despite the positive trend, challenges remain in
terms of local authorities' implementation of recognition and
registration procedures in the provinces and resolution of
long-standing disputes over church property seized by the GVN
after 1975. Post will continue to closely monitor these
developments. End comment.

9. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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