By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (Worthy News)-- Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung says his government will not accept demands from the Vatican to return confiscated properties to the Catholic Church in Vietnam. Mr Dung made the comments in Budapest Friday, September 18 following trade talks with his Hungarian counterpart Gordon Bajnai.
Answering questions from Worthy News/BosNewsLife and the Voice of America network (VOA) Prime Minister Dung defended Vietnam's policy to stop the Catholic Church from taking back church buildings and other properties that were confiscated by the state since 1954.
In recent weeks Vietnamese Catholics have held demonstrations in several parts of the country to demand the return of church properties.
However, Dung said Vietnam would not accept any pressure, including from the Vatican, on this issue. "All properties in Vietnam belong to the country and the government. And all the property claims have to be carried out according to the law," he said.
His comments came as Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet reportedly planned to visit Italy and to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in November or December as part of efforts re-establish diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.
Yet, activists claim Dung's arguments have been misused by the government to crackdown on both Catholics and Protestants, amid reports that several church leaders and individual Christians have been detained.
Dung spoke after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai on improving economic relations, including an $88 million loan agreement between the two nations for the building of a hospital in Vietnam.
Hungarian Prime Minister Bajnai told Worthy News/BosNewsLife and VOA however that despite the improved economic relations, Hungary and the European Union will continue discussions with Vietnam about international concerns over its human rights record.
"We do appreciate greatly that human rights discussion that is going on between Vietnam and the European Union," he said. "Hungary is part of that active discussion. We consider the European Union an alliance of values, including human values and human rights."
"We share the opinion of our European partners. And we expect that this cooperation and discussion between Vietnam and the European Union will lead to an improving relationship between our countries and alliances," he added.
Bajnai's comments about Vietnam are closely watched by the European Union as Hungary will take over the rotating EU presidency in 2011.
The country is already part of the 'EU Presidential Troika', which consists of next year's EU presidents Spain and Belgium as well as Hungary.
Vietnam has Southeast Asia's second largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with at least six million followers.
Catholic activists have criticized Washington for scrapping Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious rights, saying the move would legitimize the Communist government and what they view as the war on religion.