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Vietnamese Benedictines summoned on deforestation charges

Local residents say case may be attempt to seize control of church property

ucanews.com correspondent, Hue

ucanews.com correspondent, Hue

Published: February 29, 2016 10:30 AM GMT

Updated: February 29, 2016 10:42 AM GMT

Vietnamese Benedictines summoned on deforestation charges

A Catholic woman kneels praying in front of the Marian statue in the compound of Benedictine monastery in Thien An, Vietnam. Three monks at the monastery have been charged for deforestation. (ucanews.com photo)

Three Benedictine brothers in central Vietnam refused to answer a police summons on alleged deforestation charges.

Brothers Truong Thang, Pham Ngoc Hoang and Phan Van Giao were summoned by Huong Thuy town's public security officials on Feb. 22 over charges that they cleared away pine trees in the compound of the Benedictine monastery in Thien An on Jan. 2. The monastery is about 10 kilometers outside Hue.

"The three brothers refused to appear because they only have worked in the garden in obedience to the superior who is in charge of all issues relating to the monastery," Benedictine Brother Stanislas Tran Minh Vong, 80, told ucanews.com.

Brother Vong, who has lived at the monastery for 63 years, said the three men cut 15 pine trees located within an orange grove as they feared the pine trees' flowers would damage the oranges. The land is owned and operated by the religious community.

While clearing the trees, "some 200 officials, security officers, militia, forest wardens and others suddenly flocked to the monastery, videotaping, threatening and shouting at us with foul language," he said. 

State-run media reported that the Benedictine brothers cleared 700 square meters of pine forest managed by a local state-run forestry company, and threatened with knives officials who arrived at the scene.

Brother Vong denied those accusations, saying the "Benedictines never do as gangsters."

He said the Benedictines arrived in the area in 1940 and cultivated 107 hectares of land, of which they still keep ownership papers. After 1975, the communist government "borrowed" 57 hectares of land from the monastery and assigned it to the forestry company.

In 2000, the government confiscated the rest of the land and assigned it to a tourism company, but allowed the Benedictines to keep six hectares, including the monastery where the pine and orange trees were located. 

Local residents told ucanews.com that local authorities had previously confiscated land from the Benedictines, and awarded it to other officials who then sold the land to others to build houses and Buddhist pagodas. 

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Father Anthony Nguyen Van Duc, monastery superior monastery, said in a petition that the Benedictines have the legal right to own and operate the 107 hectares of land and that the local officials have no right to seize control of the land.

He said the case was an attempt to slander the community.

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