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Sanchez to Discuss Rights in Vietnam

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Embracing the Vietnamese community’s recent efforts to make human rights in Vietnam the new focus of protests at a Westminster strip mall, Rep. Loretta Sanchez said Sunday she will raise the issue with Communist leaders during a trip to the Southeast Asian country later this month.

Sanchez, a Democrat who represents Little Saigon, also said she will continue to oppose improved trade relations with Vietnam until it ends religious and political persecution.

“We must address these human rights abuses first and foremost before we normalize relations with Vietnam,” she said.

The step puts her firmly at odds with U.S. policy and the Clinton administration, which in the past two years improved trade relations with Vietnam and is now in bilateral talks with Vietnam that could lead to granting the country most-favored-nation trading status.

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In making the announcement to about 60 Vietnamese Americans meeting in a Garden Grove church, Sanchez said she agrees with those who last week began transforming the 2-month protest over Communist symbols displayed at a local video store into a discussion of basic freedoms in Vietnam.

“This is about human rights and making Congress and the American people aware of the political and religious persecution taking place in Vietnam,” she said.

Sanchez’s words were echoed by half a dozen Vietnamese leaders who also spoke, as well as state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove).

“This is not about old history or a community that has come together over a poster in a store,” Dunn said. “It is about family and loved ones who are lost and are imprisoned.”

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The appearance of the two Democratic lawmakers continued the politicization of the video store protest that began when county Republican leaders, including Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) and GOP county Chairman Tom Fuentes, appeared a week ago at a rally outside the shop to present a resolution passed at the state GOP convention.

It calls on video store owner Truong Van Tran to take down the poster of Ho Chi Minh and the flag of Vietnam, both symbols of communism to the refugee community.

Sanchez will go to Vietnam March 26 for about a week as part of a congressional delegation scheduled to discuss MIA and POW issues, she said. But rather than adhere to the limited agenda, Sanchez said, she will press the Vietnamese government to expand press, speech and religious freedoms, and also talk with leaders about political prisoners.

Susan Dong-Matsuda, a leader of one of the youth groups behind the video store protests, gave Sanchez a list of 37 political prisoners and asked her to investigate their fate.

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“This is a spiritual issue,” Dong-Matsuda said. “It is not about America or Vietnam but about humanity.”

Sanchez said last year’s effort in Congress to block expanded trade with Vietnam lost by 100 votes. She urged the community Sunday to make the issue “up close and personal” for each member of Congress by joining her in recruiting members of Congress to adopt Vietnamese prisoners of conscience.

“If we can take the energy we have seen in this city in the past two months and redirect it, we can get those 100 votes,” she said.

Loc Van Nguyen, vice president of the Vietnamese Community of Southern California, said all Americans and everyone in Congress must learn that “70 million people in Vietnam still suffer day and night. The people in Vietnam should have the same right to express themselves as the owner of this store.”

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