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Kyodo : Vietnam premier meets dissident Buddhist leader

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HANOI, April 5 (Kyodo) — Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai had his first-ever meeting with the leader of the dissident Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) this week, the newspaper Viet Nam News said.

Thic Huyen Quang, who has been under house arrest for more than two decades, met Khai at the premier’s official residence in Hanoi, the official English-language newspaper said.

Viet Nam News said the pair discussed religious freedom in Vietnam during their 45-minute meeting, but it noted Khai failed to say if a ban on religious activity by the UBCV would be lifted.

Local analysts see the dialogue as a furthering of the government’s “Doi Moi” policy of opening up Vietnam and Vo Van Ai, director of the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau, which supports the UBCV, described the meeting as “significant.”

“I sincerely hope these talks will lead to concrete actions such as the release of (monks),” Ai said on his group’s Web site.

After Vietnam’s reunification in 1976, the government was eager to absorb all Buddhist sects into the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam, but the southern-based UBCV resisted the policy, leading to many UBCV monks being dispossessed.

Quang, first arrested in 1982, was only recently permitted to visit Hanoi for medical treatment.

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