Vietnamese sisters who responded to an invitation to meet with the local government last month were dismayed when the meeting turned into a press conference announcing the government would seize their monastery to convert it into a public square.

Catholic News Agency reports that at the start of December, the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres received a letter from the People's Committee of Vinh Long inviting them to a meeting to discuss the requisition of their home.

"For a long time, they had never seen such a polite letter from the local government," Fr J.B. An Dang told CNA. "However, on arriving to the meeting on December 12, they soon found out they were in fact the victims of a cheap trick played by the government officials."

The sisters entered the meeting with goodwill, trusting their government would do the right thing.

"What happened during that meeting was enough to change drastically their view of the government's credibility," he said.

The nuns' provincial superior Sr Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc said in a letter to various state agencies that the congregation had been invited "to exchange and discuss."

However, "there was neither exchange nor discussion at the meeting." "Mr Nguyen Van Dau, Head of the People's Committee simply announced the decision to turn our monastery into a public square."

The provincial superior reported that prominent media organisations and personnel were present at the meeting, including the editor in chief of Vinh Long Newsmagazine and representatives of the radio and television stations of the province.

J.B. An Dang told CNA that although all the sisters at the meeting stood up and strongly protested the property seizure, state media reported that the sisters were happy with the decision and cited their presence at the meeting as strong evidence of their contentment.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered state bodies using land linked to religious groups to do so in a way that did not hurt the feelings of the faithful, Radio Australia reports.

At the same time, he warned that any activities relating to such land that created social disorder, "split national and community unity", or broke the law would be dealt with strictly.

Reuters news agency says Mr Dung's directive comes in the context of a series of property disputes over the past year between Vietnamese Catholics and the state.

"The new directive has nothing new," said Fr Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi, "It just tries to maintain the injustice that believers of religions have been being suffered."

"Take the nunciature as an example. It has been converted into a public park even there is already a huge park at the Hoan Kiem Lake ("Lake of the Returned Sword") just a few hundred metres away. Can anyone say that the nunciature is now used 'effectively' and 'in a way that do not hurt the feelings of the faithful'?" he asked, according to a VietCatholic report.