Cablegate: Government to Evict Plum Village Monks Again by the End Of

DE RUEHHI #1398/01 3520939
O R 180918Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Government to evict Plum Village monks again by the end of
the year


1. (SBU) Summary: Vietnamese officials in Hanoi and the Central
Highlands continue to assert that Plum Village monks and nuns must
return to their home provinces and seek residence at local
Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha (VBS)-affiliated temples despite our
latest round of protests. The head of the EU mission who recently
visited Lam Dong said that Phuoc Hue's Chief abbott felt he had no
choice but to sign a document agreeing to evict the followers in
the face of pressure from police, local authorities and an angry
mob. The Plum Village monks and nuns appear reconciled to
returning to their home provinces. The MFA denied a request by
HCMC to visit the area (which falls outside of the HCMC consular
district). The Mission will continue to press for a peaceful
resolution and protection for the Lang Mai Order, and remind the
GVN its handling of the entire Bat Nha situation reflects poorly on
Vietnam's deteriorating human rights record. The Embassy is also
planning to visit the area in early January. End summary.

2. (SBU) In a December 12 meeting with the Vice Chairman of the
Central Highlands Steering Committee, Tran Viet Hung, in Dak Lak
Province, Poloff voiced continuing concerns about the situation
facing the Plum Village adherents residing at the Phuoc Hue pagoda,
noting in particular the problems the EU delegation recently
experienced when trying to meet with Chief Abbott Thich Thai Tuan
and Plum Village followers. Hung was well briefed on the matter
and quoted almost verbatim MFA and MPS talking points that dismiss
the situation as an "intra-Buddhist dispute." He also recalled his
exchange with State Department officials on this topic during his
visit in November as part of a VOLVIS program. He said that the
only possible solution at this time was for the Plum Village monks
to return to their home provinces and to seek residence in local
VBS-affiliated pagodas.

3. (SBU) On December 14, Swedish Political Counselor Marie-Louise
Thaning, who led the EU delegation to the region, said she was
"shocked" by the angry mob that had interrupted the EU meeting with
the Chief Abbott of the Phuoc Hue pagoda last week (Ref A).
Thaning noted that the Bat Nha situation was a key topic of
conversation during the EU's biannual Human Rights Dialogue that
took place December 11, immediately after the EU visit to the
region. Thaning said that the EU delegation highlighted the
European Council's recent resolution which criticized Vietnam's
actions regarding the Plum Village Order and asked the Vietnamese
government to act with restraint in resolving the situation.

4. (SBU) On December 14, Poloff met with Director General for
International Cooperation Dang Tai Tinh and Director General for
Buddhist Affairs Bui Huu Duoc at the Committee of Religious Affairs
(CRA) to discuss the ongoing situation at the Bat Nha Pagoda. Not
surprisingly, DG Duoc characterized the dispute as an "internal"
disagreement between Buddhist factions. Poloff took issue with
this characterization noting the CRA had recently rejected the
sponsorship requests by two VBS pagodas willing to host the Plum
Village order in Dong Nai and Lam Dong provinces (Ref A). If this
was simply an intra-Buddhist dispute, why did the CRA stand in the
way when the Buddhists tried to resolve the issue peacefully,
Poloff asked. DG Duoc changed tack, insisting that the Plum
Village Community had broken the law by not seeking CRA permission
before building their training center at the Bat Nha Pagoda,
illegally installed their own Deputy Abbott of the pagoda, failed
to register the monks and nuns with local officials as required by
law, and ordained monks and nuns without seeking prior approval of
the CRA. He said, "If we let the Plum Village Community break the
law with impunity every other religion will follow suit." He also
asserted that there were significant lifestyle differences between
the Plum Village "religion" and the state-sponsored VBS, including
allowing monks and nuns to pray and meditate together, which is
considered "scandalous" by other Buddhists here.

5. (SBU) Poloff noted Plum Village followers had been active for
at least four years, and that Thich Nhat Hanh had been welcomed by
President Triet and many other senior officials. DG Duoc did not
respond, instead complaining about "anti-GVN" information posted on
the "Phu Sa" website, which he attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh.
Suggesting that political considerations have colored the GVN's
judgment, Duoc then cited a letter from Thich Nhat Hanh to Triet,
supposedly in private but later posted online, that recommended
that the CRA and the religious police be abolished and that Vietnam

HANOI 00001398 002 OF 002

drop the word "Socialist" from its name.

6. (SBU) Duoc then repeated earlier claims that the GVN had tried
several times to meet with Thich Nhat Hanh in France, only to be
rebuffed. He also wondered why none of the Plum Village
Community's senior leadership had attempted to call the CRA to
discuss the ongoing dispute. Poloff pushed back, asking if DG Duoc
had called the Lam Dong local authorities when the mob originally
attacked the Plum Village Community in June, whether he had called
on the Ministry of Information and Communication when the MPS
mouthpiece Cong An Nhan Dan published several slanderous articles
against Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community, or whether
he had called the police to find out why plainclothes officers were
involved in roughing up monks and evicting them from their homes.
Not surprisingly, Duoc did not respond.

7. (SBU) Comment: Barring further provocations by GVN authorities
or a change of heart on the part of the Lang Mai followers, the
nearly year-long standoff is coming to an end, with the Lang Mai
monks resigned to leave the pagoda by the end of the year. Two
other Plum Village contingents remain in Hue and Khanh Hoa
provinces. The authorities' poor handling of the situation,
particularly their unwillingness to protect the followers against
mob violence, constitute another stain on Vietnam's already poor
human rights record and remind us of the perceived "threats" that
groups like the Long Mai represent to maintaining social order in
Vietnam. End comment.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.

© Scoop Media

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