Vietnam and Vatican to hold dialogue

Hanoi, Vietnam - The Vietnamese government and the Vatican plan to hold their second-ever meetings in Rome this week, Vietnamese state media reported Tuesday.

The two sides, which have lacked formal relations since Vietnam gained independence in 1954, were due to meet Wednesday and Thursday, the reports said.

Government spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said the discussions would pick up where previous talks left off. At the first meeting in Hanoi in 2009, they discussed steps toward formalizing relations.

Tensions between Hanoi and the Vatican over land disputes and religious freedom date back to Communist suppression of Catholicism in the 1950s and '60s. Catholics were viewed as insufficiently patriotic and associated with the former French colonial government.

Several Vietnamese Catholic churches have staged protests in recent years to demand the government return real estate it confiscated during the 1960s.

Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong is to lead the Vietnamese delegation, the official Voice of Vietnam reported. The Vatican delegation is to be headed by Undersecretary for Relations with States Ettore Balestrero.

Vietnam's 6-million-strong Catholic community is Asia's second-largest after that of the Philippines.