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Political prisoners at a Vietnamese detention camp are beaten by guards, denied medical care and forced to survive on a diet of rice and salt, a human rights group reported.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, based in Genne-vil-liers, France, quoted a document reportedly written on July 25 by Pham Van Thanh, who the committee said is serving a 12-year prison term at a camp in southern Vietnam.Based on the document Thanh smuggled out of Vietnam, the committee's report this week gave a rare glimpse of what it says are conditions inside the country's camps for political prisoners.

"Security police beat up political prisoners with unbelievable violence," Thanh said. The prisoners are "beaten like animals," he added.

Vietnam's Foreign Affairs Ministry had no comment on the report.

The report said police arrested Thanh and Pham Anh Dung, both French citizens, in March 1993 during a visit to protest peacefully for democratic freedoms and reforms in Vietnam. It was unclear what led to the arrests.

A tribunal found Thanh, Dung and 12 other overseas Vietnamese companions guilty last August of trying to overthrow the government and imprisoned them for terms ranging from three years to life. Some of the group were American and Canadian residents, the report said.

Thanh is serving his sentence at the A20 Reeducation Camp in Phu Yen province, 238 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, the report said.

Inmates at the camp must perform excessively hard labor and suffer from a deliberate lack of food and access to doctors or medicine, he said. At least one detainee, Tran Cong, died because he had no money to pay for medical help, Thanh said.

"I saw a whole group of security guards surrounding a prisoner at the camp entrance, beating him repeatedly over the head with their rifle butts," he said.

Thanh said he knew of 1,000 other political prisoners who are detained under "identically inhuman conditions" in six different Vietnamese camps and prisons.

Human rights are a possible hurdle in efforts to normalize relations between the United States and Vietnam, which have speeded up since President Clinton's removal on Feb. 3 of the 19-year economic embargo against Vietnam.

Vietnamese and American officials met in February in New York to discuss human rights violations listed in a U.S. State Department report.