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Vietnam Files Protest Over US Report On Religious Freedom

September 21, 2004 1:23 a.m.

HANOI (AP)--Vietnam has lodged an official protest with the U.S. over a U.S. State Department report designating the Southeast Asian country as one of the world's worst offenders of religious freedom, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

In a meeting with U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission John S. Boardman Monday in Hanoi, Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien formally rejected being placed on the list of "countries of particular concern" and said the decision was based on distorted information, the Viet Nam News reported Tuesday.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Louis Lantner Tuesday confirmed the meeting.

Nien, who wrote a letter of protest to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, also warned that the move could damage the former foes' expanding bilateral relations, the paper said.

The designation also carries the potential for economic sanctions, which can be imposed at the discretion of the U.S. president.

Vietnam joins Myanmar, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea on the worst-offender list issued last week.

In the report, Vietnam was accused of trying to force ethnic minority Protestants to recant their faith, and of continuing to detain leaders of banned religious groups such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

Repression of Roman Catholics and followers of local religions Hoa Hao and Cao Dai was also documented.

Vietnam recognizes only six government-sanctioned religions, but several banned groups operate without its approval. The country has been under intense pressure from international human rights groups, the European Union and the U.S. to improve religious freedom.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to restrict U.S. aid to Vietnam if it fails to improve what lawmakers said was a deplorable human rights record. The bill still requires U.S. Senate approval to become law.