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Cablegate: Ambassador, Hanoi Archbishop Discuss Church Land Disputes,

VZCZCXRO4769
OO RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #1120/01 2740913
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 300913Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8548
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH PRIORITY 5170

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001120

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREL PGOV VM

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR, HANOI ARCHBISHOP DISCUSS CHURCH LAND DISPUTES,
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, VATICAN RELATIONS

Ref: A) Hanoi 1093, B) Hanoi 1086, C) Hanoi 1007

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Meeting the Ambassador September 30, Hanoi
Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet noted improvements in the Church's
ability to recruit seminary students and assign priests, but voiced
dismay over ongoing land disputes. The Ambassador assured the
Archbishop of active U.S. support for human rights and religious
freedom, noting that he had personally urged the authorities to
resolve the disputes equitably. The Archbishop thanked the Embassy
for its repeated visits to the disputed sites; however, he expressed
disappointment that the United States had publicly cited
improvements in Vietnam's record on religious freedom. The
Archbishop remarked that while annual discussions between Vietnam
and the Vatican continued, progress toward normalization of
relations remained slow. He said that the Hanoi land disputes were
"not serious enough" to merit interference from the Vatican. END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On September 30, the Ambassador called on the increasingly
embattled Archbishop of Hanoi. The Chairman of the Hanoi People's
Council Chairman's public comments calling the Archbishop a
"troublemaker" were widely reported in the Vietnamese press and the
Archbishop's website and access to internet have been blocked
intermittently since tensions over the land in downtown Hanoi which
formerly housed the residence of the Papul Nuncio escalated (ref A).


CONTINUED IMPROVEMENTS, BUT LIMITS ON SOCIAL OUTREACH
--------------------------------------------- --------

3. (SBU) Archbishop Kiet affirmed that, overall, the Catholic
Church continues to enjoy greater freedom to conduct its activities
and to reach out to parishioners. As evidence, the Archbishop cited
the fact that Catholic seminaries are now able to recruit students
annually and that the Church is able to assign priests with less
government interference. He said that the Church was also
increasingly able to contact Catholics in remote highland areas.
The Archbishop noted, however, that the Church continues to
encounter difficulties in its health care and educational
initiatives, explaining that nuns and members of the lay community
must contend with the same corruption and state control that other
independent groups face. Describing his August trip to Orange
County, the Archbishop said that he views the move to create a
"sister diocese" relationship as contributing to bilateral relations
in much the same way as business relationships and sporting
exchanges help to build people-to-people ties.

VEXED OVER THAI HA, PAPAL NUNCIATE
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Archbishop Joseph expressed frustration over recent events
at Thai Ha parish and the former residence of the Papal Nuncio. He
emphasized that the demonstrations and prayer vigils at the two
sites had been peaceful and respectful, but that the government had
forced a confrontation with its sudden decision to turn the
properties into public parks. The Archbishop cited the beating of
an AP correspondent (ref. B) and the arrest of several Thai Ha
parishioners (ref. C) as particularly egregious examples of the
government's lack of respect for human rights. Speculating on what
he described as an intra-Party dispute between reformers and
hardliners, the Archbishop noted that the fairly progressive
officials with whom he thought he had brokered a compromise earlier
this year were no longer in contact with him.

5. (SBU) Asked for his views on how the dispute might end, the
Archbishop said that the Church had repeatedly demonstrated a
willingness to compromise. The fact the Church was only disputing a
handful of the 95 Church properties in Hanoi confiscated by the
government in the 1950s and 1960s was itself a major concession, the
Archbishop insisted. He emphasized that the Church had made a
principled decision not to contest property that was being used for
the people's benefit, such as land that had been turned into
hospitals or schools. What was "unreasonable" was when property was
used for speculative or profane purposes. Using atypically
emotional language, the normally placid Archbishop described as
"insulting" plans first put forward at the end of 2007 to turn the
Papal Nuncio's former residence into an entertainment center
featuring a disco and karaoke.

6. (SBU) The United States has encouraged the GVN to allow
individuals with differing views to express their opinions
peacefully, the Ambassador emphasized, stressing that U.S. officials
would continue to meet with people throughout society to get a full
understanding of developments within Vietnam. Archbishop Joseph
said that priests and parishioners alike appreciated recent visits
by the U.S. Embassy to Thai Ha and the Papal Nunciate. Referring to
remarks made at the Septebmer 19 release of the IRF, he voiced
disappointment, however, over public statements by the State

HANOI 00001120 002 OF 002


Department noting progress in expanding religious freedom. The
Ambassador responded that the United States has consistently pressed
Vietnam to expand religious freedom and to allow greater political
and media freedom. While the United States takes no position on the
complicated legal and historical issues involved in the Church's
land disputes, the Ambassador had personally called on the
government to find a mechanism to resolve its differences with the
Church peacefully, fairly, and within the law.

VATICAN RELATIONS
-----------------

7. (SBU) Archbishop Joseph said that the Vatican had not weighed in
specifically on the land disputes, acknowledging that this was "not
serious enough" to merit direct intercession. He affirmed that
Vietnam and the Vatican continue to hold annual discussions, as they
have for the past decade and a half. Unfortunately, despite
positive signals from PM Dung after his meeting with the Pope two
years ago, progress was incremental and the prospects for
normalizing relations remained distant.

8. (SBU) Comment: In addition to meeting with the Archbishop, the
Embassy has emphasized the need to find a transparent and equitable
solution to land disputes throughout Vietnam and noted the negative
impact on Vietnam's image of the GVN's failure to tolerate peaceful
protest in meetings over the last two weeks with the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Security, the Committee on
Religious Affairs and the Office of Government. End Comment.

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