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Cablegate: Situation for Lang Mai Monks Deteriorates at Bat Nha Pagoda

VZCZCXRO1192
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0599/01 2651039
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221039Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6034
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 3931
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 6270

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000599

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV VM
SUBJECT: SITUATION FOR LANG MAI MONKS DETERIORATES AT BAT NHA PAGODA

REF: HANOI 653

HO CHI MIN 00000599 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: On September 21, local authorities raided the
dormitory of the besieged monks and nuns of the Plum Village
Lang Mai Order at Bat Nha pagoda in Lam Dong province, demanding
identification papers and taking several monks into custody for
questioning. The police action came shortly after the group was
informed by the National Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA)
that their petition to remain in Lam Dong has been denied,
leaving them in legal limbo without official sponsorship. The
400 Vietnamese followers of the internationally renowned Zen
master, Thich Nhat Hanh, have lived with daily harassment from
Bat Nha resident monks and locals. While they acknowledge that
living conditions for their group have deteriorated rapidly, the
Lang Mai adherents are determined to remain at Bat Nha until
they receive a final decision from Lam Dong VBS regarding their
sponsorship. End summary.

CRA Denies Petition, Police Raid Compound

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

2. (SBU) The situation for Lang Mai monks and nuns at Bat Nha
pagoda in Lam Dong province has grown progressively worse this
week, culminating in a police raid on their dormitory late in
the evening of September 21. A monk within the group told
ConGenOff that ten uniformed policemen and a group of
plainclothes individuals kicked open the door to the monk's
quarters and asked them to present their identification
documents. They took the IDs of two monks and asked them to
come to the local police station, where they were questioned and
released at 0900 in the morning. The call was cut before the
monk could relay more details, but international media reported
that an angry mob gathered outside the pagoda and pressured
monks to leave, including a group carrying knives who reportedly
took the monks' laundry off a clothesline and tossed it into a
nearby river.

3. (SBU) On September 22, Poloff in Hanoi spoke with Colonel
Nguyen The Cong, Deputy Director of the Security Department at
the Ministry of Public Security to reiterate our concerns about
the treatment of the Plum Village monks and to complain about
last night's raid and detention of several monks. Poloff
reminded Cong that the DCM and Ambassador had expressed similar
concerns to senior MFA, MPS and CRA officials and requested that
the GVN intervene to protect the monks. Cong said he did not
have specific information about last night's incident and
whether police were involved, but insisted that if the police
were involved they were merely enforcing the law.

4. (SBU) The police raid came shortly after the group received a
negative reply from the national Committee for Religious Affairs
(CRA) in response to its petition to remain at the pagoda. In a
letter dated September 16, the national CRA cited four reasons
for denying the group's request: failure to meet temporary
residency requirements, lack of sponsorship by the Vietnam
Buddhist Sanga (VBS), lack of support from Bat Nha's head monk
Thich Duc Nghi and the lack of a legally appointed spokesperson
to submit the petition on behalf of the group, despite the fact
the petition had been penned by a monk and signed by most of the
Lang Mai members.

5. (SBU) The CRA's negative response has dashed further the
group's hopes of remaining at the pagoda, but most seem
determined to remain at Bat Nha until they receive official
notification regarding their September request for sponsorship
from the Lam Dong VBS. A monk in close contact with the
Consulate said "I know it's no longer safe here...but we don't
know where to go now. We still want to follow our faith. For
the past year, there were times when I felt so tired, so hurt,
but I still try to stay positive. I still believe that we can
understand and love each other."

COMMENT

-------

6. (SBU) It is unlikely that the VBS will intercede to support
the group now that the CRA has officially denied its support for
Lang Mai's continued residency at Bat Nha pagoda. The police

HO CHI MIN 00000599 002.2 OF 002


raid is likely the first step towards an actual eviction of the
group from Bat Nha. Though the group had been living and
studying at the pagoda for the past four years, head monk Thich
Duc Nghi never filed for the group's temporary residency permits
and quickly withdrew his support after controversial articles
critical of GVN policies on bauxite mining, Vietnam-China
relations and other sensitive subject appeared on a website
affiliated with the Plum Village Community late last year
(reftel). The articles also prompted local authorities to begin
their campaign of harassment towards the Lang Mai community,
including inciting local opinion against the group. Part of the
Lang Mai group's reluctance to leave has been the substantial
sum invested in building their prayer and study facilities at
the pagoda, much of which was destroyed by angry locals in June.
END COMMENT.

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

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