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Vietnam, U.S. Talk Human Rights Ahead of Decision Deadline

Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2005

www.christianpost.com

U.S and Vietnamese officials are holding intensive talks ahead of next week's deadline to decide if Vietnam remains on the U.S. State Department's "worst-offender" list for religious violations.

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A U.S. Embassy spokesman would not confirm details, but said that Ambassador john Hanford was holding "ongoing and constructive" meeting in Hanoi, according to an Associated Press report.

Last year, Vietnam was placed in the United State's "countries of particular concern" category, which refers to Vietnam's human rights record. If the status does not of the category does not change by March 15 when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice makes a recommendation to President George W. Bush, It is possible that sanctions may be levied against Vietnam. The sanctions could take the form of economic penalties.

The People's Police newspaper reported that ambassador Hanford met with the Vice Minister of Public Security Nguyen Van Huong in Hanoi on Sunday.

Among the issues raised during the meeting was a new Vietnamese directive that would allow Protestant "house churches" in the Central Highlands of northern Vietnam. The state of religious prisoners was also discussed.

Last month prior to the Lunar New Year, Vietnam released two high-profile political prisoners. Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que were released for writing online essays dealing with freedom and human rights.

In June 2004, the U.S. announced that the amount of economic aid given to Vietnam would be linked in part to its human rights record, according to Index on Censorship.

Last month, the government gave permission for "house churches" in the Central highlands, as long as they cut off their relationship with a group that officials consider a separatist movement.

Recently a U.S. report on Human Rights criticized Vietnam's treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians.