Search

 

Cablegate: Uscirf Urges Gvn to Ease Ethnic and Religious Tensions In

VZCZCXRO1785
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1236/01 3480954
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140954Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3448
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2368
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3667

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001236

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF, DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF SOCI PINR VM
SUBJECT: USCIRF URGES GVN TO EASE ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS TENSIONS IN
KHMER BUDDHIST PROVINCE

REF: (A) HCMC 0234 (B) HCMC 0520

HO CHI MIN 00001236 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------
1. (SBU) The USCIRF delegation, on the final leg of their
12-day long assessment of religious freedom in Vietnam, visited
Soc Trang to examine issues pertaining to the Mekong Delta
province's significant Khmer Buddhist population. The
delegation, which included Commissioner Leonard Leo and two
staffers, met with the Chairman of the Soc Trang People's
Committee, members of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha (VBS)
Executive Council, and the head monk of the Pra Sat Kong Temple.
USCIRF focused attention on two main issues in Soc Trang: the
imprisonment of four Khmer Buddhist monks following a February
2007 protest and the establishment of additional Pali language
schools. End summary.

USCIRF Expresses Skepticism About February Protest, Urges
Amnesty For Imprisoned Monks
--------------------------------------------- -------------
2. (SBU) Commissioner Leo opened the meeting with People's
Committee Chairman Huynh Thanh Hiep by acknowledging
improvements in religious freedom in Vietnam over the past few
years, as evidenced by church re-openings and increased dialogue
between the government and religious groups. He said there
remained, however, several outstanding issues that needed to be
addressed in order to achieve full reform. He focused attention
on two main issues in Soc Trang: the imprisonment of four Khmer
Buddhist monks following a protest in February 2007 (reftels)
and the establishment of additional Pali language schools.

3. (SBU) Recounting the official version of the February 2007
protest, Chairman Hiep blamed the incident on a misunderstanding
over a minor traffic incident involving a Khmer Buddhist monk
riding with an unlicensed motorbike driver. Hiep said he was
very sorry about the case, but emphasized that the incident was
an issue of public order, not religion. In response,
Commissioner Leo said he found it "troubling" and "hard to
believe" that 200 monks and laypeople would protest over what
officials called a minor traffic incident. The demonstration,
according to the Commissioner, indicated the level of skepticism
felt by the Khmer Buddhist monks towards government action,
which he associated with a history of ethnic and religious
tension between the GVN and the ethnic Khmer in Vietnam. To
address this issue, the Commissioner proposed increased dialogue
between the Khmer Buddhist community and the GVN. Moreover,
USCIRF urged the GVN to grant amnesty to the four monks arrested
for their involvement in the February 2007 protest. Chairman
Hiep stated that the government would consider amnesty if the
monks demonstrated good behavior in prison but claimed that
return to their temples was a matter for religious leaders to
decide.

4. (SBU) The Commissioner also raised the point that there was
significant interest in establishing more language and culture
schools and asked that the GVN ease restrictions on the creation
of additional language schools. Allowing the establishment of
additional Pali/Khmer schools, said USCIRF, would demonstrate
the GVN's interest in preserving Khmer culture and religion as
well as promote goodwill within the ethnic Khmer community.
USCIRF cited the closure of at least one language school in the
past year, a point which Hiep ignored. The Chairman answered
that in addition to the Pali Supplementary School, all 92 Khmer
pagodas also taught Pali; any additional schools would need to
be approved by the Ministry of Training and Education.

5. (SBU) During the People's Committee meeting, USCIRF also
engaged in a lengthy hypothetical discussion about whether the
GVN would allow Khmer Buddhists to separate from the Vietnamese
Buddhist Sangha, drawing an analogy to Christian Protestants.
The Chairman responded by firmly asserting that "there is only
one VBS" uniting all Buddhist sects in the country and that this
issue had never before been raised in the province. After the
meeting, PolOff raised concerns that the hypothetical was
misinterpreted as fact by Vietnamese officials. Commissioner Leo
immediately clarified the situation with the Hanoi CRA
representative, stating the question was purely hypothetical
and had not been raised by any group or individual.

Khmer Monks Carefully Adhere To The Official Party Line
--------------------------------------------- -------------
6. (SBU) USCIRF met with several representatives from the VBS
Executive Board, including Duong Nhan, a Khmer monk and rector
of the Pali Supplementary School. The monks declined to answer
USCIRF questions about whether more Pali language schools were
needed in the province, instead reciting statistics about the
existing schools and pagodas. When asked about the recent
closure of a Pali school, a VBS representative stated that the
school was closed during festivals only. In response to USCIRF's

HO CHI MIN 00001236 002.2 OF 002


question about the four imprisoned monks, Duong stated that he
approved their disrobing because they had violated the rules of
the pagoda and school. Duong claimed that the four monks had
been "incited by expat groups" to use religion to urge people to
demonstrate and disrupt public order. He said he would allow
them to return to the school if they became "good people after
re-education."

7. (SBU) Lastly, USCIRF had a private meeting at Pra Sat Kong
Temple, located about 30 minutes from the provincial capital and
selected by USCIRF because of reported house arrests. The head
monk enthusiastically received the delegation and expressed his
deep gratitude for their interest in the Khmer community. He
explained that the GVN had recently provided funding for the
construction of a new religious school on the temple grounds, in
addition to giving scholarships to novice monks to study. The
pagoda was responsible for selecting the monks and registering
their names with local authorities each new school year. The
monk reported that he and his fellow monks were free to go
anywhere in the city, and that there was no police presence
around the temple.

Comment
-------
8. (SBU) In his final debrief with the CG, Leo suggested giving
additional support for the preservation of Pali/Khmer culture,
as a means of reducing both religious and ethnic tension in the
province.
FAIRFAX

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

UN SDG: UN Appoints Twenty Eminent Thinkers To Shed New Light On The World’s Greatest Challenges

New York, 21 January 2021 – Twenty prominent personalities, globally renowned for their intellectual leadership in economic and social fields, will form the second United Nations High-level Advisory Board (HLAB) on Economic and Social Affairs, the ... More>>

UN: As COVID Deaths Pass Two Million Worldwide, Guterres Warns Against Self-Defeating ‘Vaccinationalism'

With more than two million lives now lost worldwide to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General appealed on Friday for countries to work together and help each other to end the pandemic and save lives. In a video statement , Secretary-General António Guterres ... More>>

UN: Violent Attempt At US Capitol To ‘overturn’ Election, Shocking And Incendiary

A group of independent UN rights experts released ... More>>

UN: Guterres To Seek Second Five-year Term
António Guterres will be seeking a second five-year term as UN Secretary-General, which would begin in January 2022.... More>>