Reporters without borders and Nguen Thi Thanh Van’s family voice fears for french journalist held in Vietnam

The husband and sister of French journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, her lawyer and the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders today told a press conference of their anxiety about the plight of French journalist and activist who is in the hands of the Vietnamese government.

The 51-year-old, from Haÿ les Roses in the Paris region, was arrested with five others on 17 November while taking part in a meeting on the promotion of non-violence in Vietnam and detained in Ho Chi Minh City where she now reportedly faces terrorism charges.

She had gone to Vietnam to carry out interviews with dissidents and peasants.

“We are very worried about her health and we urge the French authorities to at least get the right to make a consular visit,” her husband Nguyen Minh Ly, a French computer technician, said. “This situation is completely aberrant in which a French woman is being secretly held on the basis of absurd accusations.”

Secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard, said at the press conference, “We are here to express our deep concern about the plight of Nguyen Thi Thanh Van whom we know well.”

“We urge the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to meet us and the family and to throw all possible resources into freeing our colleague and compatriot,” he said.

The journalist’s sister Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, spoke about her character and motivation, saying, “She is a very peace-loving and humane person, who is passionate about justice, law and her country. The whole family is shocked by the accusations of terrorism. Our parents, who are over 80, are traumatised by her detention”.

Her colleague, Bui Xuan Quang, described her as a “sensitive, intelligence and courageous woman.” He said the terrorism accusations were based on “evidence which does not stand up to any examination”, aimed at “sullying activists and journalists opposed to the regime.”

Her family’s lawyer, Serge Lewisch, said he feared the worst after terror charges were brought. “A consular visit is the very least that can be done, but France, which has good relations with Vietnam, has not obtained one,” he said, adding that he was ready to got to Ho Chi Minh City himself.

Those present at the press conference showed the media copies of the tracts and stickers seized by police when they arrested Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and the five others in Ho Chi Minh City. One entitled, “Promote non-violence” recalls the struggle of Gandhi and other international figures to obtain democratic change through non-violence. The other was a simple sticker promoting station New Horizon for which she was working.

Since the start of the 1990s, she has contributed to media run by the Vietnamese community in exile, including Radio Chan Troi Moi (New Horizon – which broadcasts on medium wave to Vietnam.

Chinese police detain two suspects over trafficking Vietnamese babies

NANNING, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) — Chinese police have detained a Vietnamese woman and a Chinese man who allegedly smuggled four babies from Vietnam into China, local police said Thursday.

The woman was caught holding two babies in arms on the China-Vietnam border in Dongxing City of southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Tuesday night, when she illegally entered Chinese territory across a river. The woman seemed not to be the mother judging from her appearance, a spokesman with the Dongxing police said.

Police questioned the 53-year-old woman surnamed Pham from Mong Cai City of northeast Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province, and she confessed that she had planned to sell the two babies aged below two months to a man surnamed Ruan from south China’s Guangdong Province, the spokesman said.

Pham also confessed that she has smuggled four babies on three separate occasions into China this month.

Ruan was later captured in a makeshift shed in Dongxing, which neighbors Mong Cai.

The two babies are now being attended by the Dongxing Municipa lObstetric and Gynaecology Hospital, the spokesman said.

The case is being further investigated, he added.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

Czech labour shortage forces Skoda to recruit workers from Vietnam

Skoda has begun to recruit workers from Vietnam for its factories in the Czech Republic as it struggles with a labour shortage.

The Czech carmaker is having to search further afield for employees amid increased migration of Eastern European workers and a booming domestic automotive industry.

Skoda, which is owned by VW, has used an employment agency to recruit several hundred workers from Vietnam, whom it regards as disciplined and attentive to detail.

A spokesman said: “We have a shortage of labour so we are using employment agencies to bring in staff. Vietnam is one of the areas we are bringing people from. We would rather find people close to home and it is a long way for them to come, but until we can find the right people nearer home this is what we will have to do.”

It is not the first time that workers from Vietnam have moved to the Czech Republic. When the country was under communist rule as Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, also under communist control, and Cuba sent workers in return for arms and heavy engineering goods.

Many stayed in Czechoslovakia after the overthrow of communism in 1989 and set up small businesses. Now the Vietnamese are the third-largest immigrant group in the Czech Republic, behind Ukrainians and Slovaks.

Skoda, which has been steadily repositioning itself in the car market as more of a value brand, is one of the Czech Republic’s biggest employers. It has more than 27,000 workers in its three factories.

The open-borders policy of the European Union means that it is suffering recruitment problems. Many Czech workers have left for better paid jobs in Western Europe. Additionally, those from the neighbouring countries of Poland and Slovakia, which traditionally have made up the majority of foreign workers in the Czech car industry, are also choosing to go further or to take jobs in their own growing automotive industries.

The Czech Republic’s automotive industry employs more than 120,000 people, an increase of 40 per cent on 15 years ago. A number of Western carmakers have built factories in the country in recent years because of its lower labour costs and its central location in Europe.

Skoda’s own production, which includes some output from a factory in China, is set to exceed 640,000 vehicles this year. In 1994, the Czech company, which is more than 100 years old, produced only 173,000 vehicles. The carmaker believes that it can make one million cars in the forseeable future.

The Czech Republic is trying to make it easier for more migrant workers to settle in the country so that it can maintain a decent labour pool. It intends to issue green cards for workers outside the European Union that will combine rights for residency and work permits.

Vietnam’s emerging automotive industry and its broader economy are being closely watched for evidence that the country could be the next China in terms of rapid industrial growth. This year it became the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation. Its car industry is still young because traditionally Vietnam imported virtually all of its vehicles from communist Eastern Europe.

However, Japanese carmakers, such as Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi, began to move into the country in the mid-1990s, producing cars in partnership with Vietnamese businesses.

Vietnamese strike at Nike plant

Thousands of workers have gone on strike at a Vietnamese plant that makes shoes for Nike, demanding higher pay.

Workers, who produce about 10% of the 75 million pairs of shoes made for Nike in Vietnam annually, want more pay, bonuses and cost of living allowances.

Strikes have become more common in Vietnam, as inflation – now at 9.5% – has risen.

The average monthly salary at the South Korean-owned plant is $62, about 20% more than the minimum wage.

Rising prices

The plant in Dong Nai, near Ho Chi Minh city, employs some 14,000 people.

“Given the fact that inflation is so high now, it is hard to say they are being too demanding,” said Kieu Minh Sinh, an official with Dong Nai Provincial Trade Union.

Rising inflation and growing industrial unrest has pushed the Vietnamese government to raise the minimum wage.

Last year, the government increased the minimum wage for workers at foreign firms by 25%.

The government has said it will increase the minimum wage by about 12% in January.

Nike is aware of the strike and is encouraging workers and management to resolve their differences, a spokesman for Nike UK said. It is not clear how long the strike will continue for.

“There is a strike at the factory, one of several factories in Vietnam that produce Nike footwear,” he said.

“All our contract factories are required to comply with Nike company standards regarding working conditions and with local laws and regulations,” he added.

Officials at Tae Kwang, the South Korean company that runs the factory, declined to comment when they were contacted by the Associated Press news agency.