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Diplomats in Hanoi visit leader of banned sect

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Eight diplomats from the European Union and the United States met the hospitalized patriarch of a banned Buddhist group for the first time in more than two decades, the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau says.

Thich Huyen Quang, 86, of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, has been under house arrest since 1992. He was taken to Hanoi for eye surgery following international pressure after local medical facilities proved inadequate.

The diplomats also met a Quang aide to discuss Vietnam's bans on religious groups and the detentions of Quang and Thich Quang Do, the No. 2-leader of the Unified Buddhist Church.

The Communist government permits only seven religious organizations to operate. Quang's prohibited group refuses any leaders imposed by the government.

Vietnam says its citizens enjoy religious freedom but forbids independent organizations that might challenge its control.