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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

Buddhist monk sacrifices himself

Associated Press

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese-born Buddhist monk who self-immolated outside a U.S. pagoda on Christmas Eve sacrificed himself to call for an end to religious repression in his native country, a Paris-based Buddhist support organization said yesterday.

Thich Chan Hy, 74, set himself on fire at 5 a.m. Wednesday at an altar outside the Lien Hoa Pagoda in Charlotte, N.C. Hy did not disclose his plan to anyone and left a note explaining his act as a plea that "all Vietnamese may enjoy freedom of religion and belief. I wish that all Vietnamese will be entitled to human rights and democracy," according to a statement from the International Buddhist Information Bureau in France.

Hy's letter also commented on recent criticism from Europe, Australia and the United States about Vietnam's human-rights record and called on Vietnam to preserve the sovereignty of its borders.

"I feel so helpless and inadequate," the letter said. "I therefore make the offering of my body, and pray that my appeal will be heard."

Hy, whose secular name was Le Ve, left communist Vietnam in 1991 after spending several years in a re-education camp there. A veteran of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese army, Hy joined the Lien Hoa Pagoda in 1994.

Self-immolation was used as a form of protest during the Vietnam War, when a well-known image was captured of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in what was then Saigon.

Vietnamese officials in Hanoi did not immediately comment yesterday. The government maintains that it only punishes lawbreakers and does not restrict religious freedom. However, only a handful of state-sponsored religions are recognized and permitted to function.

The European Parliament and the U.S. Congress have both condemned crackdowns on religious freedom and dissidents. In its annual report on religion released last week, the U.S. State Department categorized Vietnam as a totalitarian or authoritarian country that attempts to control religious belief or practice.