Hanoi gives no “terrorism” arrests evidence: U.S.


HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has not given the United States any evidence of reports in state-run media that four Vietnamese-Americans arrested last month were suspected of terrorism, the U.S. Ambassador said on Tuesday. Envoy Michael Michalak also said he had not yet been told of any charges against the four U.S. citizens, although consular officials have been allowed to visit them at a detention centre.

“If they are being detained for peaceful expression of their political views then we will protest vigorously and call for their release,” Michalak said at a media briefing.

Asked what impact the arrests would have on warm diplomatic relations between the former war enemies, Michalak said, “That will depend a lot on what the charges are and what happens to the people under detention.

“At this point we have to wait and see.”

The Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), a U.S.-based group opposed to communist rule, says six of its activists were arrested in mid-November and that police seized thousands of leaflets promoting peaceful democratic change.

Officials have confirmed they include two U.S. citizens, a French national, a Thai national and two Vietnamese citizens.

A Vietnam government spokesman last week confirmed state media reports that, separately on November 23, two other U.S. citizens were arrested. He said the two were arrested for smuggling arms into the country.

Official media has linked them with the group of six, but the Vietnam Reform Party rejects any connection, saying it does not support the use of violence in any circumstance.

Michalak said on Tuesday that Viet Tan is not on a U.S. list of terror organizations.

“We have seen no information that would support charges of terrorism that have been suggested by the local media,” the diplomat said.

The ruling Communist Party rejects calls for multi-party democracy and has arrested about 30 political activists this year. Some were put on trial for “spreading propaganda against the state”, a criminal offence in Vietnam.


US criticizes Vietnam for detention of citizens for terrorism


Vietnam’s conduct in the cases of four US citizens arrested in November, questioning Vietnamese accusations they had been involved in terrorism. “We have seen no information that would support the charges of terrorism against these individuals that have been suggested by the local media,” US Ambassador Michael Michalak said at a press conference. Two Vietnamese-born US citizens, Nguyen Quoc Quan and Leon Trung, were arrested by Vietnamese authorities on November 17. Both are members of a US anti-Communist group called the Viet Tan party, which says they were discussing strategies for peaceful democratic protests. The Vietnamese government accuse them of involvement in terrorism. No formal charges have been made public. Michalak said the US would protest “any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views.”The other two detained US citizens, Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan, were arrested at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City on November 23, after a firearm and ammunition were reportedly found in their luggage. The Viet Tan party says Thinh and Phan have nothing to do with their group. Michalak also noted Vietnam’s failure to allow the four detainees to contact the US consulate within 48 hours, as mandated by the Vienna Convention. US consular officials were not permitted to visit any of the detainees until December 4. Elsewhere Tuesday, two Vietnamese courts in the southern province of Dong Nai sentenced seven activists to several years each in prison, on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”Four of those sentenced were active in the United Workers-Farmers Organization, an independent labour union established in 2006. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have protested their arrests. The detentions present the United States with an obstacle to its cultivation of better relations with Vietnam, a country with which it enjoys increasing trade and diplomatic ties. The US is seeking Vietnamese cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts and on an American anti-nuclear proliferation initiative. Earlier Tuesday, Michalak gave a speech at the opening of a seminar on Vietnam’s upcoming role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Vietnam will assume a seat on the Security Council in October, and will hold it for two years. “A nation does not participate on the security council solely to advance its own interests, but rather to serve the greater interests of the world community,” Michalak said. According to Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull, who visited Vietnam earlier this month, the US would like Vietnam to begin sending troops to participate in UN peace-keeping missions.

US Ambassador calls on Vietnam to explain charges against detained US citizens


HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – The U.S. Ambassador said Tuesday he has seen no evidence linking four detained U.S. citizens to terrorism and called on the Vietnamese government to explain their arrests.
«To date, we have received no formal notification of the charges against these individuals,» Ambassador Michael Michalak told reporters at a media briefing.
«We have seen no information that would support the charges of terrorism against these individuals as suggested by the local media,» he added.
Vietnamese authorities arrested U.S. citizens Nguyen Quoc Quan and Truong Van Ba on Nov. 17 and Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan on Nov. 23.
Quan and Ba were among a group of six people detained in Ho Chi Minh City who were circulating leaflets for Viet Tan, a California-based pro-democracy group that the Vietnamese government considers a terrorist organization.
«We have seen no evidence that Viet Tan is a terrorist organization,» Michalak said. «If there is evidence that this group is engaged in terrorist activities, I would like to see it.
The Vietnamese government has not announced formal charges against any of the detainees.
But according to Vietnamese media reports, authorities were investigating Quan and Ba for terrorism.
Thinh and Phan were detained after authorities allegedly found a weapon in their luggage when they arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City airport on Nov. 23, Vietnamese media reported.
A government spokesman has said the two were detained for allegedly bringing arms into the country.
During her interview with U.S. Embassy officials, Thinh denied that there was a weapon in her luggage, Michalak said.
Viet Tan has said the two cases are unrelated and have nothing to do with the group. Michalak said he has seen no evidence that shows the cases are linked.
Viet Tan says it promotes peaceful democratic change in Vietnam. The group says that the six people arrested in Ho Chi Minh City were circulating pamphlets promoting nonviolent political change.

«The United States will protest any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views,» Michalak said.
Vietnamese authorities have said that Quan entered Vietnam with a forged Cambodian passport, a violation of Vietnamese law. Vietnamese government officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the cases.
All of those arrested are of Vietnamese descent.
Quan and Ba were detained along with four others, including two Vietnamese citizens, a French citizen and a Thai national, all of whom are still in custody.
Ba’s Americanized name is Leon Truong and Thinh’s Americanized name is Helen Le.

Typhoons near Vietnam, Philippines


(CNN) — The Philippines and Vietnam stepped up the evacuations of tens of thousands ahead of the landfalls of two separate typhoons expected on Saturday.

In Vietnam, officials were evacuating 200,000 people, as Typhoon Hagibis neared the nation’s southern coast, days after unleashing deadly landslides and floods in the Philippines, The Associated Press reported. The typhoon was packing 133 kph (83 mph), AP reported.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Red Cross was preparing in “full force” for Typhoon Mitag’s arrival, Benjamin Delfin of the Red Cross told CNN.

“At present, our dispatch response teams to our local chapters are on 24-hour standby,” Delfin said. Families in “most of the vulnerable areas prone to landslide and those families living (along) the coastline” have been evacuated, he said. Delfin did not specify how many people were affected.

The typhoon was packing winds of up to 175 kph (109 mph), with gusts of 210 kph (131 mph), according to AP. VideoWatch what areas will be most affected »

The typhoon’s high winds were being felt across the northern and central regions of the archipelago nation, including areas still recovering from Hagibis.

Under threat was the Bicol region — an area in the southeastern end of Luzon, the northernmost of the country’s island groups.

As Mitag bore down on the Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered mass evacuations, the government reported. Some 40,000 people in the province of Albay were being forced to evacuate, it said.

The government also raised the possibility that Mitag could strike the nation as a super-typhoon — a storm equivalent to a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. At last report, Mitag was just shy of Category 3 status.

Just days ago Typhoon Hagibis — or Lando, as it is called in the Philippines — struck Visayas and Mindanao, the central and southern island groups of the country. The typhoon is blamed for killing at least 10 people, the Philippine government reported on its Web site.

China chides Vietnam over island dispute


BEIJING (Reuters) – China chided its neighbour Vietnam on Tuesday, saying the Southeast Asian country was straining ties by asserting claims to a chain of islands that may be rich in oil.

Vietnamese protested in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and the consulate in Ho Chi Minh city over the weekend, proclaiming that the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands belonged to their country.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said the protests were spontaneous and quickly ended by officials, the Vietnam News Agency reported. But China’s Foreign Ministry responded with a warning that the quarrel could harm ties.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news conference. He said China and Vietnam had previously agreed to settle the dispute through negotiations.

“Recently in Vietnam there have been developments unfavourable to friendly ties between China and Vietnam, and we are highly concerned.”

Qin said Hanoi had to take steps to “prevent further developments and avoid harming bilateral relations”.

Territorial disputes between the two Communist neighbours have a history of turning ugly.

The Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea suspected of spanning large oil and gas deposits, are also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

China seized the Paracel Islands, a set of islets just north of the Spratly group, in 1974 and has occupied them since despite Vietnamese protests.

In June, BP Plc halted plans to conduct exploration work off the southern Vietnamese coast, citing the territorial tensions.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Vietnam was stirring up trouble by agreeing with BP and its partners to develop the area.

Vietnam has long been wary of its bigger Asian neighbour and in 1979 the two countries fought a border war.

In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle near one of the Spratly Island reefs. But the two Communist neighbours normalised relations in 1991 and tensions have eased considerably in recent years.

Mining accident kills 3 in Vietnam

Hanoi – Three men died when they were buried under a rockslide while illegally mining coal in northern Vietnam, local media said Saturday. Tran Xuan Danh, Nguyen Van Ut and Nguyen Xuan Danh were gathering coal at an open pit in the northern province of Quang Ninh, 150 kilometres east of Hanoi, when a sudden cascade of rocks into the pit crushed them, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

The three had reportedly been hired by a local man, Luu Ngoc Hoi, to illegally exploit coal at several open pits in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam’s largest coal mining area. Local police have arrested Hoi for interrogation.

So far this year, mining accidents have killed at least 24 people in Vietnam. Most of the accidents have happened in Quang Ninh, which has estimated coal reserves of 30 billion tons.Vietnam’s booming economy has ramped up demand for coal, both for domestic energy generation and exports.

Coal production has tripled in five years, with 39 million metric tons mined last year, compared to 13 million tons in 2001, according to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office.

In 2006, coal exports jumped 66 per cent to roughly 30 million tons of coal, valued at 927 million dollars. Customers for Vietnam’s coal include China, Japan and South Korea.

Pro-democracy protest in front of Vietnamese embassy in US


About 300 Vietnamese-Americans protested in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington Monday against the arrest in Ho Chi Minh City of six political activists, including two US citizens.

Vietnamese police on November 17 arrested the six, including two Vietnamese-American members of the California-based Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, which is banned in the Asian communist one-party state.

The protestors, some who travelled from California and Chicago, carried pro-democracy banners and flags and shouted slogans such as “It’s time for democracy in Vietnam” and “Free the peaceful democracy activists.”

The two arrested Americans — Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from Sacramento, and Leon Truong, a restaurateurfrom Honolulu — were among a group that circulated petitions produced by Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group promoting peaceful political change in Vietnam.

Families of the two met Monday with State Department officials, who “basically reaffirmed that it was a priority of the US government to seek their release,” said Duy Hoang, a US-based leader of Viet Tan.

The officials also said Washington had protested at the highest levels in Vietnam “that you can’t hold people for their peaceful expression of their beliefs,” he said.

Eleven US lawmakers meanwhile wrote to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, saying the arrests “violate the government of Vietnam’s promise to continue to improve its human rights record.”

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

A small group of the protestors at the Vietnamese embassy later walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the Chinese embassy to defend Vietnam’s claim of sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

China last month set up a county-level Sansha administrative unit on Hainan island, which covers 2.6 million square kilometres (1 million square miles), mostly ocean, including the disputed isles.

The disputes stir strong passions in Vietnam, which remembers a millennium of Chinese rule and fought its last border war with China in 1979.

The two countries fought a brief naval battle in 1988 near one of the Spratly Island reefs, in which more than 50 Vietnamese sailors died.

The two communist-ruled countries normalized relations in 1991.

“Our demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy is not in support of the Vietnamese government but in support of the position of the nation of Vietnam in the claim of sovereignty over the islands,” Duy Hoang said.