~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

[Year 1997]
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[Year 1999]
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U.S. and Vietnam in 'serious' rights talks

HANOI - The United States has handed Vietnam a list of prisoners of conscience it wants released and urged Hanoi to improve the country's overall human rights situation, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

Bennett Freeman, U.S. deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said he had productive talks so far during the seventh round of bilateral human rights dialogue between Washington and Hanoi.
Freeman told Reuters he had discussed individual cases of Vietnamese jailed for their political or religious views and given to government officials a list of inmates Washington would like freed. He gave no names.

``Our discussions so far have been serious and substantive. We attach importance to our relationship with Vietnam but we look forward to further improvement on human rights,'' said Freeman, who was scheduled to fly to Cambodia Wednesday.
``I emphasized the importance of continuing progress on human rights and labor as an important part of the bilateral relationship,'' added Freeman, who said Hanoi had demonstrated a willingness to address the issues.

In a February report on human rights worldwide, the State Department cited sources that put the number of prisoners held for political reasons in Vietnam at 100-150. Rights group Amnesty International put the figure at 40, the report said.
Freeman has been accompanied to communist Vietnam by Robert Seiple, U.S. ambassador at large for religious affairs. Seiple has been focusing on the issue of religious freedom in Vietnam, although he has not yet been available to comment.
The visits throw the spotlight on Vietnam's human rights and religious record at a time when Hanoi has been inching closer to reaching a landmark trade agreement with the U.S.

Some analysts have said Vietnam's poor human rights record could hinder approval of the agreement by the U.S. Congress. A trade deal would incorporate Normal Trade Relations (NTR), once called Most Favored Nation trade status, and also help Hanoi's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Freeman said he had discussed with Hanoi a 1997 directive on ``administrative detention,'' which allows authorities to detain people without trial for up to two years.

Freeman also praised Vietnam for last year's mass prison amnesty, which saw a number of well-known dissidents walk free, but he urged Hanoi to take similar steps soon. -- In addition, Freeman asked Hanoi to focus on the state of the country's prison conditions, which have been criticized by Western governments and human rights organizations.
Nearly 8,000 prisoners were released in two separate amnesties last year. But some of those dissidents have since complained of harassment by security officials.
Hanoi, which tolerates little internal dissent, denies that Vietnamese are jailed for religious or political beliefs.

Reuters - July 13, 1999.