Vietnam plans talks with Catholic officials over monastery dispute

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese authorities plan to hold talks with a Catholic monastery and church officials to resolve a land dispute that prompted a violent scuffle last month, a provincial government body said.

Land disputes are common in Communist-ruled Vietnam, where conflicts over property between Catholics and regional authorities have posed one of the key obstacles to a normalization of relations with the Vatican.
The Thua Thien-Hue provincial people's committee said it would meet clerics of the Thien An Saint Benedict Monastery and church officials from Hue, about 700 km (435 miles) southeast of the capital Hanoi, to try to resolve the dispute.
The panel will "consider the legitimate aspirations of Thien An monastery within the framework allowed by the laws," it said in a statement late on Monday, without giving a date for talks.
On June 28, clergy at the monastery said dozens of what they believed to be plainclothes policemen took down a cross and a statue of Jesus on land the church claims in a dispute.
But the provincial committee accused the monastery of illegally cutting down trees and levelling land in a special-use forest to erect a cross, besides destroying a road used for forest fire rescues and obstructing efforts to rebuild it.
Monk Joseph Mary Chu Manh Cuong told Reuters the clerics opposed the unauthorized construction of a road to link a lake to a tourist resort.
In the clash that followed, regional authorities accused the monastery of having threatened people and injured two.
Plainclothes police used sticks, saws and water pipes to beat the priests, monks and nuns and hurt many in the monastery, the monk said.
Reuters could not immediately verify the competing claims.
In 2008, more than 1,000 Vietnamese Catholics protested in Hanoi as eight Catholics went on trial over their claim to a plot of disputed land in the capital, a rare expression of dissent against the ruling Communist Party.
In that case, the court ruled the land in dispute was public property.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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