AFP, Apr. 27, 2003
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HANOI (AFP) – Authorities in southern Laos have evicted three Christian families from their homes for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), in a move condemned by the US government.
The families, from Muang Phine district in Savannakhet province, are now in the care of a Christian church after being forced out of their homes in late March, the US government-funded network said in a report broadcast Saturday.
“Frankly, we are disappointed at what appears to be kind of a regression, where earlier it seems like some of the trends were improving,” William Inboden, special adviser to the US ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, told RFA’s Lao service.
The US State Department official also cited reports that Christians in the northern city Luang Prabang and elsewhere were facing pressure from Lao authorities to renounce their faith or face eviction or detention.
Some people have been arrested “just for speaking freely and openly about their faith and in other parts of the country, Lao Christians have been ordered to close their churches and to stop their worship practices,” he said.
Inboden warned that such practices could hinder support in Washington for extending normal trade terms to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, RFA said in a statement.
President George W. Bush’s administration openly favors extending Normal Trade Relations (NTR) — formerly known as Most Favored Nation trade status — to Laos.
But human rights groups and some legislators oppose NTR for the authoritarian communist regime, citing widespread human rights violations.
In a letter sent on Friday to Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, seven members of Congress said Laos should not be rewarded “for the consistently dreadful behavior” it has exhibited at home and in its relations with Washington.
Laos “continues to be one of the world’s most reprehensible abusers of human rights — with a repertoire that includes torture, harsh restrictions on the press and free speech, and imprisonment of people for their religious beliefs,” they said.
Earlier this month, the State Department released its annual human rights report on Laos, saying its “human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses.”
Debate over granting Laos NTR status has recently intensified, and is backed by the US ambassador in Vientiane, Douglas Hartwick, and president of US-ASEAN Business Council, Ernest Bower, in favor of the normalization.
NTR guarantee lowest tariff rates for countries exporting to the United States and makes an economy eligible for credit and investment guarantees from various US government agencies.