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Vietnam frees third dissident

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From combined dispatches

HANOI — Vietnam released a political dissident yesterday, the third the communist nation has freed ahead of President Nguyen Minh Triet's historic trip to the United States, state press reported.

Le Quoc Quan, a 36-year-old lawyer, was released to his family in the capital, Hanoi, the Vietnam News Agency reported. He had been detained since March 8, shortly after he returned from a five-month fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, a political institute in Washington.

Mr. Quan had been doing research on the role of civil society in emerging democracies. Earlier, he had worked as a consultant for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program.

"Le Quoc Quan violated Vietnamese laws," the agency reported. "During his detention for investigation, Le Quoc Quan made a sincere statement of guilt," the report said, without providing further details.

Police were not available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Quan was one of several pro-democracy activists whose release had been sought by the State Department, which has complained about an escalating crackdown against Vietnamese dissidents in recent months.

Vietnam's president is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House on June 22. He will be the first Vietnamese leader to make a state visit to Washington.

Shortly after the White House formally invited Mr. Triet, Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Le Van Bang announced that Hanoi would release three dissidents before the two presidents meet. He did not say which prisoners would be released.

On June 9, Vietnam released Nguyen Vu Binh, a prominent government critic who was imprisoned for five years. Mr. Binh, a former journalist and Communist Party member, was one of Vietnam's first "cyber-dissidents," convicted of using the Internet to spread pro-democracy views.

In May, Vietnam freed Phan Van Ban, 70, a former police officer of the former U.S.-backed South Vietnam, and allowed him to leave for the United States.

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