A U.S.-based China rights organization says the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is under U.S. protection and that talks are underway between U.S. and Chinese officials.
The group ChinaAid released the statement Saturday, citing sources close to Chen, although there were few details. ChinaAid President Bob Fu, a former Tiananmen Square activist, called the Chen situation "a pivotal moment for U.S. human rights diplomacy."
On Friday, ChinaAid said Chen is safe and at a location far from his home village.
Also Friday, the United States expressed concern about Chen's fate, but refused all comment on his whereabouts, amid reports he fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Chen, a lawyer and activist, was arrested after documenting abuses in China's policy on restricting the size of most families. He disappeared Sunday from village of Dongshigu in the eastern province of Shandong, although authorities did not realize he was missing until Thursday. It is not clear where he went, but his friend and fellow activist Hu Jia said Friday he believed that Chen was admitted into the embassy.
U.S. diplomats there declined any comment and a spokesman for the Chinese government said he knew nothing of the reports.
The development comes days before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are due to visit Beijing for talks.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said at a briefing in Beijing Saturday on the upcoming talks that he had no information on Chen's case.
In Washington, U.S. Republican Congressman Chris Smith said he is relieved that Chen has escaped. Smith chairs a commission on China that includes members of Congress and presidential appointees.
"I am relieved to hear the reported news of human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng's escape from extended illegal home confinement and hope that he is safe as his supporters have indicated," said Smith.
But Smith expressed concern about the safety of Chen's family and supporters in China.
A relative of Chen told VOA that many police officers, some armed, have converged on his home in Dongshigu.
In a video posted online Friday, Chen detailed the abuses he and his family have allegedly suffered in his year-and-a-half under house arrest. He also called on Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.
Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions under China's "one child" policy, had been held under house arrest since he was released from a four-year prison sentence in September 2010.
Fu, of ChinaAid, said Chen was able to leave his home on April 22 and his friends escorted him to a safe location. Fu said Chen's wife, daughter and mother are still at the family's home, which was surrounded by local authorities after they found him gone on Thursday.