Thursday, 23 July 2009


HANOI — More than ten people remained in Vietnamese police custody Wednesday after a violent dispute at the site of a church bombed during the Vietnam War, a local official said.
The unrest happened on Monday after about 200 people arrived at the remains of Tam Toa Catholic church in central Quang Binh province, said local government official Tran Cong Thuat, vice chairman of the provincial People's Committee.
He said the group tried to "illegally" build a structure on the site, which is listed as a historical war relic. But others, whom he identified as local residents, sought to dismantle it, leading to conflict between the two groups.
"Some extremists resorted to violence, using stones and sticks to beat each other, and forcing police to intervene. Police arrested more than 10 people," who are still being held for investigation, Thuat said.
"We don't know whether they are Catholics or not."
A priest, Pham Dinh Phung, told AFP on Tuesday night that 20 Catholics were detained by police.
Phung said about 100 police officers wanted to dismantle the newly-built structure and when the Catholics intervened "police started beating them," adding some victims were left bleeding.
He said Catholics had asked authorities' permission to rebuild the church -- bombed by US forces during the war -- because they had no place for worship and had held prayers outdoors.
The dispute over the land, which Catholics say belongs to them and the communist state says is national property, is the latest development in a long-running battle between the church and the government.
In the capital Hanoi in March, about 1,000 Catholics protested outside a Hanoi court that upheld the conviction of eight fellow believers for property damage and disturbing public order.
All had admitted taking part in rallies that peaked last August calling for the return of church property seized -- along with many other buildings and farms -- more than 50 years earlier when communists took power in what was then North Vietnam.
Vietnam has Southeast Asia's second largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with at least six million followers.