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Saturday, August 29, 1998 Published at 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Vietnamese dissident refuses to leave

President Tran Duc Luong grants amnesty, but not without conditions

One of Vietnam's leading dissidents, who is due to be released from jail as part of a general amnesty, has said he would rather stay in prison than leave the country.

Nguyen Dan Que, a doctor serving a 20-year sentence for advocating democratic reforms, is due to be freed next month.

The United States, which considers Nguyen Dan Que to be a prisoner of conscience, has said it will accept the prominent anti-government figure.

No longer welcome

But the brother of the dissident has said Nguyen Dan Que is refusing to comply with a condition attached to his release, which stipulates that he must leave Vietnam for good.

The decision to grant amnesty to more than 5,000 prisoners was made by Vietnam's President, Tran Duc Luong, on Saturday. The release will coincide with Vietnamese independence day on 2 September.

The move has been welcomed by the human rights group Amnesty International and by France, the former colonial power in Vietnam, which hailed it as a step towards political reform and openness.

South East Asia Correspondent, Simon Ingram: Release marks "culmination of a well-organised international campaign"
Among those to be released is the high profile writer and journalist Doan Viet Hoat, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1993 after being accused of attempting to overthrow the government.

His case achieved widespread international publicity. Before his detention, Doan Viet Hoat had published an underground newspaper, Freedom Forum, calling for a multi-party system and the abolition of the ruling communist party.

Last June, he was honoured by the world association of newspapers for his commitment to a free press.

The Vietnamese Government has been under growing pressure from western governments and human rights organisations to release both Nguyen Dan Que and Doan Viet Hoat.

International image

The country has been hit hard by the fall-out from Asia's economic crisis and is in need of international goodwill to keep open channels of aid and investment.

Nguyen Can Dinh: "Vietnam doesn't have any political prisoners"
Announcing the releases, the Director of the Presidential Office, Nguyen Canh Dinh, reiterated the government's long-standing position that Vietnam had no prisoners jailed for their political or religious beliefs.

"We do not have political or religious prisoners. All Vietnamese or expatriates who have violated Vietnam's laws have been sentenced in accordance with the criminal courts," he said.

However, a recent US State Department report said the country had some 200 political prisoners.

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US State Dept. Human Rights Report on Vietnam

Vietnamese Embassy in Washington DC

Nhan Dan: Vietnamese official newspaper (in Vietnamese)

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