Vietnam Assails U.S. Hearings on Religion

Calls It «Gross Interference»

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HANOI, Vietnam, FEB. 13, 2001 ( Vietnam said that deliberate attempts were being made to undermine rapprochement with the United States, ahead of U.S. hearings on religious freedom in this Southeast Asian country, BBC reported today.

Vietnam has described the upcoming hearings in Washington, D.C., as a rude and «gross interference» in its internal affairs, which was being used to smear the country´s name, BBC said.

The Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan said nobody was arrested in Vietnam because of their religious beliefs. It said some Buddhists and followers of others religions had been detained, but only because they broke the law.

The hearings come hard on the heels of the worst unrest to hit Vietnam for years, involving mainly Protestant ethnic minority hill farmers in the central highlands.

The hearings by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms — due to open Wednesday — will hear evidence from various witnesses, including exiled Vietnamese dissidents.

They come shortly before Congress is due to decide whether to ratify the bilateral trade agreement signed last year.

BBC´s Hanoi correspondent said Vietnam now recognizes six religious groups, but organizations which lack official acceptance face sustained harassment.

Last September, the U.S. State Department published a report accusing the Vietnamese authorities of arbitrarily detaining some believers, such as Buddhists and Protestants.

Last week, just ahead of the hearings, the communist authorities finally moved to recognize the country´s largest Protestant church, the Evangelical Union of Vietnam.

Last week, Vietnamese troops and riot police moved into the country´s central highlands to quell protests by ethnic minority hill farmers.

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 protesters key issue was the government turning the hill tribes´ ancestral forests into the country´s largest coffee-growing region, which has brought in lowland Vietnamese.

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