11/14/2006, 00.00
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US drops Vietnam from "countries of special concern" over religious freedom

But AsiaNews sources said religious freedom remained nonexistent in many cases and was anyhow always conditioned by the approval of local officials. Hanoi welcomed the decision but criticized US MPs for not confirming a bilateral economic accord.

Washington (AsiaNews) – The US State Department has removed Vietnam from the list of "countries of particular concern" as regards religious freedom.

At the same time, however, US House of Representatives did not confirm Permanent Normal Trade Relation status for Vietnam, which would allow the country to join the World Trade Organisation.

Asked about the US decision, AsiaNews sources in Vietnam said the improvement was "fictitious", adding: "Religious freedom is nonexistent in many cases and anyhow always conditioned by the approval of local officials."

John Hanford, ambassador-at-large for religious freedom of the US Department of State said the decision not to remove Vietnam from the list was "one of the most significant announcements we're making this year." Hanford said this was a way of "recognising significant improvements by the government toward advancing religious freedom."

Among "re-designated" countries on the list this year were China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Uzbekistan has been added to the list for targeting and persecuting Muslims are targeted as terrorists.

Hanoi has "joyfully welcomed" Washington's decision. Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said today: "It is the right decision which accurately reflects reality in Vietnam and progress in bilateral relations".

However Dung also accused the US Parliament of acting "regrettably" by rejecting Permanent Normal Trade Relation status for Vietnam. The decision, taken yesterday by the House of Representatives, implies a significant reduction in Vietnam's business and puts at risk its membership of the World Trade Organization, acquired last week.

Hence, on behalf of the government, Le Dung "hopes Congress will approve a new accord at an early date, thus contributing to promoting the relations between the two countries and helping the Asian economy."

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