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dpa : Vietnam-Dissident – Rights group slams Vietnam’s announcement about dissident monk feared kidnapped

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HANOI, Sept 16, 2003 (dpa) – A human rights group Tuesday disputed Vietnam’s assertion that a prominent dissident Buddhist monk was arrested last year in Vietnam, rather than being abducted from Cambodia as the group claims.

Thich Tri Luc, also known as Pham Van Tuong, was abducted from his guesthouse in Phnom Penh last July, according to the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

Vietnam’s press spokesman directly contradicted this Tuesday in the official account of how Luc ended up in a Vietnamese detention centre more than a year after being granted refugee status in Cambodia by the United Nations.

“On July 26 2002, on the way to flee the country with an intention of collaborating with anti-Vietnamese external forces, Pham Van Tuong was arrested at Tay Ninh border station,” said Le Dung, Vietnam’s press spokesman.

Following Luc’s disappearance last July, Vietnam repeatedly denied knowing the whereabouts of the dissident monk.

The president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights reacted angrily to the Vietnamese official’s statement.

“It is incredible that Vietnam can lie so brazenly to the international media,” Vo Van Ai told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa), on Tuesday. “Is Vietnam trying to make the world believe that Thich Tran Luc came back inside Vietnam to get himself arrested ?”

Luc is a member of the banned United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (U.B.V.C.) and had been imprisoned on two previous occasions by Vietnam.

The dissident monk fled to Cambodia from Vietnam in April 2002 after more than a decade of imprisonment and harassment, according to the Paris-based human rights group.

Several Buddhist sects are recognized in Vietnam, but the U.B.V.C. has been banned for more than 20 years as it does not recognize the state’s right to reject or approve church leadership.

Earlier this year there were signs that Vietnam’s stance against the U.B.V.C. may have been softening. In April, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Phan Van Khai met for the first time with recently-freed Thich Huyen Quang, the leader of the U.B.V.C.

In June, Thich Quang Do, Quang’s deputy in the U.B.V.C., was released two months early from a house arrest sentence.

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