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AP : U.N. official: Dissident monk could be allowed to resettle outside Vietnam

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Associated Press - http://www.ap.org


A former Buddhist monk who spent 20 months in a Vietnamese jail after getting U.N. refugee status for religious persecution could be allowed to resettle outside Vietnam, a U.N. official said Monday.

Vu Anh Son, Hanoi chief of mission for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the government has agreed to let him meet soon with the monk, Pham Van Tuong, and discuss resettlement.

“We have to … talk with him and see whether he’d be willing to resettle in another country. If he wishes to do so, then it can be arranged for him,” Son said.

International human rights groups allege Vietnamese and Cambodian security officials kidnapped Tuong, also known as Thich Tri Luc, from a Phnom Penh guest house in 2002 after he received U.N. refugee status there.

He was held incommunicado in Vietnam until last August, when his family received a summons for his trial.

Tuong, 50, was sentenced March 12 to 20 months in jail _ most of which he’d already served while awaiting trial _ for committing “acts that distort the (Vietnamese Communist) Party and state’s policy of great national unity, creating conditions for other forces to cause internal insecurity and external instability.”

He was released Friday, according to the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau.

“He still has refugee status. We raised the issue of resettlement and the government has accepted (that proposal), as long as he agrees not to commit any actions against the government,” Son said.

The next step would be determining which countries would offer Tuong resettlement, he said.

“It could be a Western country, a Nordic country, even America,” Son said. “We want to do it as soon as possible.”

After his release, Tuong reportedly told the Buddhist group he’d been kidnapped on July 25, 2002, by two Cambodia security agents, who dragged him into a car with a Vietnamese security policeman.

He was beaten and interrogated at a Cambodian police station and jailed overnight, the group said in a statement. The next morning he was driven across the border to Vietnam and handed to security agents, it said.

Vietnamese government officials have denied that Tuong was kidnapped, saying they arrested him July 26, 2002, at the Vietnamese-Cambodian border as he tried to flee Vietnam. Tuong had previously been sentenced to 13 months in jail and five years house arrest for undermining government policy and abusing democratic freedom.

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