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ICC Note:

As long as Vietnam continues to hold almost 300 Christian Montagnards as prisoners (for a list contact ICC at icc@www.persecution.org) neither the Vatican nor the United States should permit Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization. Vietnam continues presenting a good face to the world, saying that they protect religious freedom, but behind closed doors the government still dictates what can be said and prosecutes Christians who do not abide by official rules.

AsiaNews (04/25/06) – The Vietnamese government and its Commission on Religious Affairs want to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See and are working on a timetable to reach that goal, Ngo Yen Thi, head of the commission, said at the closing of the Communist Party Congress. Vietnam is also doing its utmost to be accepted by the international community and join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In a press conference held yesterday at the end of the congress, Ngo said that “socialism does not contravene spirituality”, claiming that the Vietnamese government guaranteed full freedom of religious practice to the Vietnamese people and that is religious policy is one of respect and support for religious freedom. “The spiritual needs of the people need the special attention of the party and the state,” he stressed.

Vietnam has however been often criticised for intolerance against Buddhists, democratic Catholics, and Protestant Montagnards. Many faith-based groups are considered illegal and persecuted, their leaders are arrested and their property destroyed. Even those groups that are legally recognised are subjected to stringent controls over what they can or cannot do.

In 2004, the US State Department designated Vietnam a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom, potentially hampering its bid to join the WTO. But Mr Thi said Vietnam would continue to urge the US to drop this designation, as it aims to join the World Trade Organisation this year.

In the last two years the takeover by the reformist wing of the Communist Party in Hanoi is giving religion greater leeway. Religion is seen first of all as a countervailing force to stem the profound immorality and corruption within the party and society. Greater openness towards religion is also seen as a useful way to promote Vietnam ’s ‘new path’.

The reformist wing’s takeover of the reins of power in the Communist Party was successful. The party congress ended yesterday with Nông Đức Mạnh being re-elected to the post of general secretary and given a mandate to kick-start reforms and tackle graft.

The 56-year-old Mạnh is expected to bring new blood to the politburo by getting Nguyễn Tấn Dũng and Nguyễn Minh Triet elected respectively as prime minister and president in lieu of Phan Văn Khải and Trần Đức Lương.

Vietnam ’s 83 million population is very young—60 per cent are under 30. In the last two years its economy has been among the fastest growing in South-East Asia . Last year it posted an 8.4 growth rate

In November Hanoi will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in November, capping its return to the international stage.