U.S. diplomats met with leaders of an outlawed Buddhist church in Vietnam over the weekend, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said Monday.
It was the first diplomatic visit Vietnam’s government has allowed the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam’s deputy leader, Thich Quang Do, in more than a year, the Paris-based Buddhist Information Bureau said in a statement.
U.S. Consul General Seth Winnick and Elizabeth Dugan of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and met with Do on Sunday in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss the church’s plight, the statement said.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed the visit and said U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine also met on Sunday with church patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 87, who’s in intensive care at a central Vietnam hospital after a stomach hemorrhage. No details of the meetings were released.
Do had also planned to visit Quang in the hospital, but police allegedly stopped a minivan on its way to pick Do up Monday morning, and the nine monks inside were told the vehicle was being impounded, the bureau said.
The monks reportedly began a sit-in around the vehicle, it said.
Vietnamese officials did not immediately respond to the allegations, but have repeatedly said that both Do and Quang are not under any type of government detention.
The two sides have clashed for years because the church refuses to merge with one of a handful of state-sanctioned religions.
Do and Quang have spent more than 20 years each under house arrest, and have been under surveillance since October 2003 after church members met to elect new leaders, the Paris-based bureau said.
Vietnam’s human rights record has been internationally criticized. In September, the U.S. State Department listed it as one of the world’s worst countries for religious repression _ a designation that could result in economic sanctions if the situation does not improve.