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Rights Activists Condemn Vietnam's Detention of Dissident Monk - 2003-08-08

Human rights activists are condemning Vietnam's detention of a dissident Buddhist monk, who was reportedly kidnapped in Cambodia a year ago.

Dissident Buddhist monk Thich Tri Luc was last seen a little more than one year ago in Cambodia, where he fled to escape government harassment for his work with the unrecognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. He was declared a refugee by the United Nations, and was put up in a makeshift safe house in Phnom Penh.

Tri Luc disappeared after two people came to visit him, and he was seen leaving with them in a car. Cambodian and Vietnamese officials later said they had no knowledge of his whereabouts, but human rights groups accused Vietnam's public security ministry of kidnapping him. A security official has since confirmed privately that Tri Luc was arrested by Vietnamese agents in Cambodia.

Recently, the 49-year-old monk's family received a summons to attend his trial this month in Ho Chi Minh City. The charges were not made clear, and since then, the trial date has been postponed, according to a report by the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. Tri Luc had previously served more than two years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms."

Vietnam's communist government has not commented on the human rights group's report, but Hanoi has recently made moves to mend relations with the Unified Buddhists. In the last six months, the government has released the sect's patriarch, 86-year-old Thich Huyen Quang, who had been under house arrest since 1992. His deputy, Thich Quang Do, was also released.

Vietnam has recently been criticized by the United States and the European Union for its record on religious freedom. Officials for more than two years have been cracking down on evangelical Christians in the country's Central Highlands region, and an outspoken Catholic priest from the city of Hue is serving a prison term for criticizing the ruling party.