Newly released journalist says thanks for international campaign 

Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, the French journalist and activist who was detained from 17 November to 12 December in Ho Chi Minh City, gave a news conference at Reporters Without Borders headquarters in Paris this morning in which she talked of her fears while held and thanked all those who campaigned for her release.

“Locked in my cell, I was anxious because I could not imagine how I would ever get out of this situation,” she said. “There was never any violence against me, but I was interrogated for one or two hours by policemen every day except Sundays. They tried to unsettle me. It was a form of moral terror.”

Than Van works for Vietnamese exile community media, including radio Chan Troi Moi (New Horizon –, which broadcasts to Vietnam on the medium wave.

“When you are released and discover all that was done on your behalf, it warms the heart,” she said. “I had this concern while in prison that people did not know what was happening to me. At the same time, I was shocked by all the lies and manipulation in the Vietnamese media. It bore no relation to what I was saying during interrogation.”

Her lawyer, Serge Lewisch, said: “It was a happy outcome, but the risk was enormous. She faced the possibility of life imprisonment on these terrorism charges. And the way the authorities were drawing other things into this case was dangerous for her. It is significant that during all this time I was unable to find a Vietnamese lawyer who dared to defend her. It is an indication of the lack of freedom in Vietnam.”

Bui Xuan Quang, the head of the Thanh Van support committee, thanked all those who participated in the campaign including former French government minister Françoise Hostalier, who interceded with both French and Vietnamese governments. “The Vietnamese ambassador to France told Madame Hostalier that distributing leaflets was a very serious crime,” he said.

Do Hoang Diem, the head of the Viet Tan (Reform) party said: “This case confirms that international pressure is fundamental in this kind of case that the Hanoi regime is not ready to abandon its repressive policy towards dissidents.”

Pointing out that a journalist, Father Nguyen Van Ly, and eight cyber-dissidents are still imprisoned in Vietnam, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said: “We welcome this happy outcome, but we should not stop here. The repression against journalists and dissidents continues, as shown in the conviction two days ago of four trade unionists for giving information to Radio Free Asia.”

Vietnam-to-China road to be builtbuild Hanoi-China highway in its biggest deal

HANOI, Vietnam: The Asian Development Bank announced its biggest-ever project Friday, a deal to lend Vietnam US$1.1 billion (€0.75 billion) for the construction of a modern highway linking Hanoi with China.

The expressway will link Hanoi with the Chinese city of Kunming following construction that is expected to finish in 2012, the bank said. It will reduce the trip to one day from the current two or three days.

Truong Tan Vien of Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport called it “a very significant project for the country.”

ADB officials, who said in a news released that road project was “single biggest project financing in ADB’s history,” said it would stimulate development and help alleviate poverty in northwestern Vietnam, one of the country’s poorest regions.

It would also reduce traffic on the region’s overburdened roads, thus reducing traffic fatalities, they said.

“Vietnam needs modern highways to help remove the country’s transportation bottlenecks, accelerate economic growth and ultimately expand economic opportunity for Vietnamese families,” John Cooney, the ADB’s infrastructure director in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

The 244-kilometer (151-mile) highway will link Hanoi and the northern province of Lao Cai, which borders the Chinese province of Yunnan.

The highway will be a toll road that is expected to generate enough revenue to pay off the loans within a decade after it opens, the ADB said.

The new road will link companies in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, to the Vietnamese ports of Hai Phong and Cai Lan. It will ease shipping for Vietnamese firms exporting agricultural and maritime products to China, bank officials said.

Human Trafficking a Growing Problem

BEIJING (AP) — Cross-border human trafficking for forced labor and prostitution is a growing problem along China’s southern border, officials said Friday at a conference on the issue.

Greater cooperation among the various countries will be needed to fight the problem and track criminal gangs dealing in humans, officials from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam said on the final day of the conference.

China uncovered 2,500 cases of human trafficking last year, and most involved criminal gangs, Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Zhang Xinfeng said.

Zhang said the number of cross-border cases was still small at about 100. But he added the trend was for that “to grow and we need to further strengthen our cooperation and carry out further joint actions to combat this tendency.”

A lack of reliable data makes it a difficult problem to tackle, and most of the information mainly comes from those who have been arrested and caught.

Representatives from the six countries that first reached agreement on human trafficking in 2004 met in Beijing this week to sign a declaration aimed at ending the problem.

Cambodian Minister for Women’s Affairs, Ing Kantha Phavi, said the problem was not only a matter of criminal prosecution but of prevention. She was the only representative not from a law enforcement body and the only woman at the meeting.

“We need an … approach where all ministries can work together,” she said.

Myanmar’s Minister for Home Affairs, Gen. Maung Oo, said his country had stiff penalties of 10 years in prison to death for human trafficking, but faced problems because of its porous borders.

The Bush administration has said Myanmar is ineligible for U.S. aid for failing to meet minimum standards of fighting human trafficking.

The meeting ended a day after five people were jailed for abducting and trafficking eight boys in southern China’s manufacturing center of Guangdong province.

The official Xinhua News Agency the five enticed boys with snacks. It said they then wanted to sell the boys in Fujian province for a total of $1,800.