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In Vietnam, Clinton Hails Relations, Cites Human Rights Concerns

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Hanoi for a regional security forum, has hailed 15 years of improving relations with Vietnam since the war fought there 35 years ago. However, Clinton also cited outstanding human rights concerns in the one-party state.

At a ceremoney marking the anniversary Thurday, she noted that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, normalized relations with Vietnam and that U.S. investment contributed to the country's fast development. She also praised the willingness of both sides to accept the past conflict and move beyond it.

"Thirty-five years ago we ended a war that inflicted terrible suffering on both our nations and still remains in living memory for many of our people," Clinton said. "Despite that pain, we have dedicated ourselves to the hard work of building peace."

She also said the U.S. and Vietnam now consistently move in the direction of engagement, cooperation, and dialogue -- even on issues of disagreement.

After a meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, she told journalists she raised American concerns about human rights in the one-party state.

"Vietnam, with its extraordinary and dynamic population, is on the path to becoming a great nation with an unlimited potential," said Clinton. "And, that is among the reasons we express concern about arrest and conviction of people for peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups and curbs on Internet freedom."

Clinton also vowed to step up support for cleaning up Agent Orange, used by the U.S. military to clear land during the war. Agent Orange is believed responsible for causing sickness and birth defects.

While in Hanoi, Clinton is also attending a security meeting of foreign ministers from Asian and western nations. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Regional Forum brings together 26 countries and the European Union.

Ministers attending the forum, including Clinton, have expressed concerns about Burma and North Korea. North Korea is under international economic sanctions for pursuing nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, she announced further sanctions against Pyongyang.

Seoul and Washington say North Korea torpedoed a South Korean navy ship in March, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies it was responsible and says Washington should halt plans for U.S.-South Korea military exercises and drop the sanctions if it wants to return to nuclear negotiations.

Clinton also noted concerns that Burma may be seeking a nuclear weapon, with North Korean help. Burma's military government denies a defector's claim that he worked on a nuclear program. Burma is to hold elections this year, the first in two decades. However, critics dismiss the polls as a sham designed to keep the military in power.

Foreign ministers from Burma and North Korea will sit down at the same table, Friday, with many of their critics, including Clinton. However, the forum is expected to issue mild statements of concern, rather than point any fingers.