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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
US urges release of Vietnam dissident
Buddhist minks parade carrying Vietnamese flag
US trade ties could be linked to religious freedom
The United States has criticised Vietnam for placing one of the country's best-known religious dissidents under house arrest.

The State Department in Washington called on the Vietnamese Government to release Thich Quang Do, a Buddhist monk who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Last week, he was placed under house arrest - confined to his monastery in Ho Chi Minh City - for two years.

Dozens of police officers have been stationed around the monastery to enforce the order.

His detention comes as the US Congress was being asked to ratify a key trade agreement with Vietnam.

Coke sign
Trade between Vietnam and the US is still low
Some congressmen have raised religious freedom in Vietnam as an issue to consider regarding passage of the agreement, which Hanoi is seeking to help meet growth targets.

Exiled Vietnamese religious leaders have also been urging the US to delay implementing a trade pact pending improvements in Vietnam's human rights record.

But, on Tuesday, Vietnam's communist authorities dismissed the impact of Mr Thich's case on the historic pact.

Crackdown

Mr Do is deputy head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

The head of the UBVC, Thich Huyen Quang, is also under house arrest in a remote part of Vietnam.

Commuters under a sign extolling the virtues of industry and modernisation
Vietnamese authorities have cracked down on dissent recently
On Thursday, Mr Do was to lead a convoy of church supporters to bring Mr Quang to Ho Chi Minh City for medical treatment.

The latest action by the authorities comes amid a widespread crackdown against religious groups and ethnic minorities, who staged large protests in February.

Among the issues that sparked the protests was the government's repression of fringe Protestant churches, which have attracted many followers from ethnic minorities in recent years.

The BBC Hanoi correspondent says Vietnam currently recognises six religious groups, but organisations which lack official acceptance face sustained harassment.

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See also:

17 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Religion blamed for Vietnam unrest
14 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Exiles slam Vietnam over religious rights
08 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam sends army into highlands
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Ethnic unrest in Vietnam's highlands
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Vietnam denies suppressing religion
16 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam: A new Asian Tiger?
16 Nov 00 | Business
Will Vietnam roar again?
04 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam moves to tackle social unrest
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