01/31/2004, 00.00
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Aggression used against parish priest and faithful

The government decides to use force in building road through Kê Sung churchyard

The clergy and archbishop of Huê have clashed with the local government over llegally seized land from the parish of Kê Sung for the building a local road. The parish priest, archbishop and faithful have suffered acts of aggression due to their protests.    

The violent action started last Jan. 6, when Fr. Dang Van Nam, together with some twenty of his parishioners, defended the Kê Sung church property from the assault of hundreds of persons sent by civil authorities to build a cement road crossing through the churchyard.    

A broad-shouldered local man, a close relative of a government party secretary, punched the parish priest in the face, while parishioners were beaten, harassed and forcefully removed from the area.

Upon hearing the news, the archbishop of Huê, Msgr. Etienne Nguyên Nhu Thê, sent two priests to the scene: Fr. Nguyên Huu Giai, Huong Phu's  deaconate director, and Fr Trân Thang Thê, a priest from a nearby parish. As soon as they arrived, both men were surrounded and assaulted by group of government officials who threw dirt, cement and rocks at them. The local police station did not respond to Fr. Nguyên Huu Giai's cell phone calls for help.      

Last March town officials had warned the Kê Sung parish council of their plans to build a road through the parish's churchyard, four meters from the church's entrance. Representatives from the Christian community expressed their disagreement, but to no effect. On Jan. 5, the day before the violent clash, the situation got worse.

Despite Fr. Dang's negotiation attempts, sand and cement were dumped for preparation of the road's surface. Halfway through the morning the president of the Patriotic Front came to announce the district's decision, stating that whoever opposed the road's construction would be punished under criminal law.   

After the Jan. 6 incident, all attempts made by religious leaders before civil authorities were in vain. After midnight, Fr. Dang and three of his parishioners were called in for questioning and they were told that work would go ahead for the road's construction. More or less at the same time, the archbishop organized a meeting with three priests of his diocese to send them to the Department of Religious Affairs to discuss the issue.

Despite the department director's promise to resolve the problem over the next few days, a delegation from the department failed to show. On Jan. 7 Fr. Dang sent a detailed report to provincial authorities regarding the previous day's brutal attacks. Fr. Dang also asked local authorities to intervene to put a stop to the violations of law and acts of violence.          

On the first day of the Year of the Monkey, Jan. 22 2004, the archbishop of Huê went to the Kê Sung church to meet with priests and faithful, who told him about them being victims such unfair acts of aggression. (MR)
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