China, US in talks to allow Chen to leave: Activist

Chinese paramilitary guards march from the US embassy in Beijing on April 30, 2012.

BEIJING - Beijing and Washington are working on a deal to allow rights activist Chen Guangcheng to leave China for the United States with his family after he fled house arrest, a fellow activist said Tuesday.

Bob Fu, who runs the US-based group China Aid and has been in close contact with Chen and his supporters, said both sides were keen for a swift agreement ahead of key US-China talks that start on Thursday in Beijing.

Chen had initially been reluctant to leave China, but now accepted that it would be difficult for him to stay, and was prepared to go into exile in the United States as long as his family could accompany him, Fu said.

"The situation has changed on the past few days. He understands that there is no way he could return to Dongshigu now," Fu told AFP by telephone, referring to Chen's hometown.

"But he won't leave without his family - if he had thought about that he would already have gone.

"The most viable scenario is to negotiate a quick deal to allow China to make a face-saving agreement."

That could involve China allowing the family to leave for medical treatment in the United States, said Fu, a former Tiananmen Square democracy activist who fled China in 1996 and now lives in Texas.

Fu did not reveal who his sources were, but said he had contacts with officials in China and Washington who said both sides were "working very actively to find a solution".

Chen, 40, a self-taught lawyer, escaped from house arrest in the eastern province of Shandong on April 22, and is now said to be under US protection in Beijing.

His wife and young daughter are believed still to be in Dongshigu.

The affair threatens to overshadow key talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their Chinese counterparts scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Neither the United States nor China has so far commented on Chen's whereabouts, underscoring the sensitivity of the situation.

But Clinton has in the past repeatedly criticised China's treatment of Chen, who won worldwide acclaim for exposing forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China's policy restricting the size of most families.

He and his family were put under round-the-clock house arrest after he completed a four-year jail sentence in September 2010. He has said he was being punished for defiantly continuing to speak out.

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