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AP : Vietnam should relax constraints on dissident monks : U.S. ambassador

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


Vietnam should allow two elderly Buddhist monks under house arrest to speak and travel freely, and strive to improve the communist country’s overall human rights situation, U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine said Friday in Hanoi.

The remarks came after Marine visited the ailing patriarch of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Huyen Quang, 87, in a hospital last weekend.

“We’re aware of the fact that his deputy, Thich Quang Do, has not been allowed to leave Ho Chi Minh City to proceed up to visit him, and we’ve made it clear… that this is very difficult to understand,” Marine said.

“I have urged (officials) that they be allowed to travel and to communicate with each other.”

Both monks have been under de facto house arrest for more than a year, but Hanoi denies they are being held under any type of detention.

The two sides have clashed for years because the monks refuse to merge with a state-sponsored religion. Both monks have been in and out of house arrest for some 20 years apiece.

Marine said he is monitoring Vietnam’s human rights record, and has had multiple high-level discussions with leaders about improving the situation.

The U.S. Embassy is in regular contact with Washington about Vietnam’s rights record. The U.S. State Department in September listed the Southeast Asian nation as one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.

The designation could result in economic sanctions, and U.S. President George W. Bush has until Dec. 15 to make a decision on whether to act or delay another 90 days.

While meeting with foreign journalists for the first time since arriving in Hanoi two months ago, Marine said the two former foes have many other issues to work on.

He said bilateral talks went well last month between the two countries on Vietnam’s bid to join the World Trade Organization by the end of next year, but more work is needed and another round of talks could occur during the first part of 2005.

“We came away impressed with the way the Vietnamese authorities had approached the issue. They had done their homework and they came to do a serious round of discussions,” Marine said. “The U.S. remains strongly behind working with Vietnam to enable it to accede to the WTO as soon as possible.”

Vietnam needs all 147 members of the world trade body to agree to it joining the WTO. So far, the biggest nod has come from the 25-member European Union.

Marine said the United States would continue to work with Vietnam on ongoing issues such as efforts to locate remains of U.S. soldiers still missing from the Vietnam War, improving bilateral military relations, and assisting with Vietnam’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It will also work with Vietnam to resume international adoptions, which were halted after allegations surfaced that children were being illegally trafficked.

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