Vietnam holding four American citizens: US officials

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5i0pH7TXxLvI5eOZqn9fJqYKLjc9g

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam is holding four US citizens, American officials confirmed Tuesday, hours after gaining their first consular access to two of the detainees, both Vietnamese-born pro-democracy activists.

Police in Ho Chi Minh City on November 17 arrested six political activists, including two US members of the California-based Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, which is banned in the Asian communist one-party state.

State-controlled media later said two more Vietnamese-Americans, reportedly carrying a handgun and bullets, were arrested at the city’s airport on November 23, in reports that collectively labelled all the detainees “terrorists.”

US officials in Hanoi said they were able to visit Tuesday the first two arrested, Nguyen Quoc Quan and a second American, who could not yet be identified because of privacy rules, in custody in the southern city.

The US embassy was also aware of the two other American citizens being held, but had not yet been officially informed of their arrests or the charges against them by the Vietnamese side, an embassy spokeswoman said.

The Viet Tan party has previously identified Quan, a mathematician, as one of its members, and said he was arrested along with Truong Van Ba, a Hawaii restaurant owner and fellow activist, and four others in the November 17 raid.

The US-based group denies any links with the couple arrested on November 23 — named in newspaper reports here as Le Van Phan and Nguyen Thi Thinh — and stressed that it only supports peaceful political change.

Senior US diplomat Stephen Mull, speaking during a Hanoi visit Tuesday, said he was not aware that Viet Tan had any terrorist links, and said the US side was still trying to gain information on all the cases.

“We do hope that people are not charged with terrorism just for expressing their opinions peacefully,” added Mull, acting assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Also arrested on November 17 were Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, Thai citizen Somsak Khunmi and two Vietnamese nationals.

A French diplomat in Paris said its mission had been allowed to visit Van, also a Viet Tan member, last Friday but declined to give more information.

Various state media reports in Vietnam have accused Viet Tan of being a “reactionary and terrorist” group plotting to overthrow the communist government and assassinate senior state leaders.

The US-based group has charged that Vietnam, having arrested peaceful activists, “had to fabricate a link with two individuals who allegedly smuggled a firearm into Vietnam in order to paint Viet Tan as a terrorist organisation.”

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