State Department official to assess state of religious freedom

A U.S. envoy is to travel to Vietnam Saturday, as a crackdown on a dissenting Buddhist organization in the country intensifies, RFA's Vietnamese service reports.

The State Department's ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, John Hanford, will aim to learn more about the "status of religious communities and activities", and to continue talks with the government, according to a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.

Hanford's visit comes as Hanoi begins a new crackdown on members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which was banned in 1981 after it refused to submit to the control of the Communist Party.

In recent days, the Vietnamese authorities have released one UBCV leader after holding him for two days but sentenced another, higher-ranking leader of the same group to two years� house arrest, RFA's Vietnamese service reported.

The foreign ministry has accused the monks of being in possession of state secrets and trying to reorganize the church with the help of outside forces.

Last month the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressionally mandated rights watchdog, called on Secretary of State Colin Powell to nominate Vietnam as a "country of particular concern" on freedom of worship�a move which could lead to sanctions.

The commission's appeal followed the imprisonment of two nephews and a niece of a jailed Catholic priest for passing on information about their uncle and the religious situation in Vietnam to U.S.-based activists.

Hanford's itinerary will include Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands, the scene of demonstrations in February 2001 by ethnic minorities protesting against a crackdown on their Protestant faith, and land confiscation.


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