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Cablegate: Renewed Tension at Thai Ha Parish

VZCZCXYZ0022
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHHI #1285 3250552
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 200552Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8759

UNCLAS HANOI 001285

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL KIRF VM
SUBJECT: RENEWED TENSION AT THAI HA PARISH

REF: HANOI 1007

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: After two months of relative quiet, tensions
flared again briefly at the Thai Ha Catholic Redemptorist parish in
Hanoi. According to parish priests, on November 15, local
officials, accompanied by dozens of members of a local "citizen's
brigade," demanded to speak with Thai Ha's Chief Priest, who
refused. After an hour-long standoff, the officials and their
intimidating supporters departed. While far tamer than the
ransacking reported on dissident internet sites, the incident
underscored continuing anxieties over the disputed property, as well
as the local parishioners' determination to stand firm. END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) In what appears to be a deliberately provocative move, the
Deputy Chairmen of the Quang Tung Precinct People's Committee, local
police, and a representative of the precinct's Vietnam Fatherland
Front arrived at Thai Ha parish the evening of November 15 and
demanded to meet with Chief Priest Matthew Vu Khoi Phung. According
to Father Phung and other priests at the monastery, the officials
were accompanied by dozens of members from a "citizen's brigade,"
which then attempted to force their way into the parish. Speaking
with Poloff November 19, Father Phung recounted that he rejected the
officials' dem`ns to gain entry to the Gerardo Chapel fmr!a
"di3cussion" anf requested`that the officials return the following
day during the daytime. Father Phung said he feared that parish
priests would be unable to handle the crowd that was accompanying
the officials. The officials threatened to call the police and
bring Father Phung to the police station for a working session, but
Phung chose not to comply and the officials did not follow through
on their threat.

3. (SBU) At this point, parish priests began ringing the church
bells in order to "call the faithful," Father Phung said. Dozens of
parishioners approached the parish but were turned away by local
police. After approximately an hour, the officials and the
accompanying citizen's brigade departed. They have not returned.
On November 18, MFA Spokesman Le Dung denied reports circulating on
the internet that hundreds of pro-government thugs had ransacked the
chapel. During a short tour of the area after speaking with Father
Phung, Poloff saw no discernable damage to the monastery, chapel or
surrounding area.

4. (SBU) Father Phung speculated that the recent incident may have
been prompted by local officials' desire to reclaim land adjacent to
the monastery where the parish built a small prayer chapel in 2007
with the tacit blessing of the State-Owned Enterprise landlord, but
without direct government approval (reftel). MFA Spokesman Dung
alluded to this when he said that "according to Hanoi City's
relevant agencies, a number of Thai Ha parishioners illegally built
a house in a plot occupied by the Cement, Transportation and
Materials Company and Hanoi Electric Power Company." Father Phung
said that local officials remain furious at the parish for the
negative publicity over the past year and the very large and public
prayer vigils.

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) While claims of attacks against the parish circulating on
the internet were clearly overblown, parish priests have reason to
remain skittish. An earlier midnight attack by a hammer-wielding
"citizen's brigade" on September 21 damaged statues around the
chapel, as well as some of the chapel's doors while police
reportedly stood around and did nothing. Tensions clearly remain
high. The incident also demonstrates that while the government may
have scored a tactical victory by building a park on the disputed
property, local Catholics remain determined to protect their parish
and priests.

MICHALAK

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