FACTBOX-Five political risks to watch in Vietnam

SINGAPORE, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Vietnam has weathered the global economic crisis relatively well, but the country is still seen as a risky and relatively opaque investment destination.

Following is a summary of key Vietnam risks to watch:

* CORRUPTION

Corruption is endemic in Vietnam at all levels of government, and acts as a major barrier to foreign investment. The authorities had announced aggressive plans to fight corruption, and encouraged the media to act as a watchdog, but these efforts lost steam after several journalists were detained for reporting on major corruption scandals. Progress on corruption will remain a key determinant of investment attractiveness.

Key issues to watch:

— Vietnam’s rank in corruption perceptions rankings. A strong improvement or decline would influence investors.

* GOVERNMENT EFFECTIVENESS

Corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and burdensome bureaucracy all impact the effectiveness of the government in formulating and implementing policy. Economic reform and the restructuring of inefficient state enterprises are vulnerable to being undermined by entrenched interests and conservative elements in the government more focused on security.

Key issues to watch:

— While the government stimulus package has boosted the economy, there are questions over how the budget deficit can be financed, how inflationary pressure can be contained, and how the crowding out of private investment can be avoided. Hanoi has embarked on a plan to trim bureaucratic procedures in government, and how that scheme plays out will be something to watch.

— Investors frequently list poor infrastructure as one of the biggest barriers in Vietnam, and the government’s ability to coordinate swift, efficient development in this area is being keenly observed.

* EXCHANGE RATE POLICY

Vietnam’s fixed exchange rate policy frequently causes economic pressures to build. The authorities are widely expected to widen the dong’s trading band or devalue it again gradually in coming months, and this has prompted hoarding of dollars. For now, the risk of a sudden big devaluation is considered small.

Key issues to watch:

— Markets are closely watching for any clues to the likelihood and timing of changes to the exchange rate.

* SOCIAL UNREST

Vietnam has seen a rising number of strikes, protests and land disputes, often affecting foreign businesses. Disturbances have erupted in rural areas due to state expropriations of land and the corruption of local officials. But there remains no evidence for now that wider unrest is likely, or that there is any imminent risk of the regime being challenged from below.

Key issues to watch:

— Any sign that a broader national protest movement is emerging out of local disputes. So far, this seems unlikely.

— The role of the Catholic church. Catholics have been engaging in periodic protests over church land taken over by the government after 1954. The Catholic Church, while officially shunning involvement in politics, has 6-7 million followers in Vietnam and is quite well organised.

— Territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This issue is highly charged in Vietnam, where suspicion of China runs high. Any move by China to assert sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, or perceived weakness by Vietnam on this issue, could galvanise broad based support for demonstrations.

* THE ENVIRONMENT

Vietnam has great potential as a source of tradeable carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, but issues of expertise, transparency and financing have hindered progress. Environmental issues may also become a growing source of popular unrest, as in China. With its huge coastline, Vietnam is recognised as one of the countries that will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, particularly in the rice-growing Mekong Delta.

Key issues to watch:

— The extent to which the government manages to limit the environmental damage from Vietnam’s economic growth.

— Any evidence that extreme weather events affecting Vietnam are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.

(Compiled by Andrew Marshall and John Ruwitch; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP476366

Vietnamese communist authorities release Nguyen Trong Khiem, terrorize family of Nguyen The Vu, and continue to hide arrest of Nguyen Quoc Quan

http://freethemnow.net/spip.php?article108 

On November 24, 2007, Vietnamese security police released university student Nguyen Trong Khiem, 18 years old, after detaining him for a week without cause. His health and spirits worn from a week of continuous interrogation and threats.

Meanwhile, Nguyen The Ky—father of Nguyen Trong Khiem, Nguyen Viet Trung and Nguyen The Vu—a respected and active member of the Phan Thiet diocese, was placed under strict house arrest by authorities.

In addition, the wife of Nguyen The Vu has been isolated and put under house arrest in Saigon, while neighbors tell of a smear campaign against her by police.

Currently, the following individuals remain under detention: Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Van (aka journalist Thanh Thao), Mr. Truong Leon, Mr. Somsak Khunmi, Mr. Nguyen The Vu, Mr. Nguyen Viet Trung. Of this list, the Vietnamese communist authorities continue to conceal the arrest of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan.

These latest developments—release of university student Nguyen Trong Khiem, terror campaign against the family of Nguyen The Vu, and denial of the arrest of Nguyen Quoc Quan—demonstrate that:

1. The Vietnamese communist authorities are vulnerable to international pressure as evidenced by the release of one individual so far;

2. The initial victory is a consequence of the advocacy of people around the world, together generating a wave of protest from elected officials and non-governmental organizations;

3. The Vietnamese communist authorities, however, are still very capable of acts of terror as shown by the arbitrary arrest of university student Nguyen Trong Khiem, house arrest of Nguyen The Vu’s father and wife, and secret arrest of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan.

Vietnam confirms secret arrest of Thai activist

http://www.bangkokpost.com/topstories/topstories.php?id=123843 

Hanoi – Vietnam on Thursday confirmed the “urgent arrest” of a Thai and two foreign pro-democracy activists who had been reported missing in the communist country, but refused to say what law the foreigners are accused of breaking.

Government spokesman Le Dung also refused to speak of a fourth missing activist – reportedly a US citizen – who had been arrested while passing out booklets on democracy

“On November 17, the Vietnamese Public Security Agency conducted an urgent arrest and temporary detainment of three people, Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, French passport holder; Truong Leon, US passport holder; and Khunmi Somsak, Thai passport holder; for their violations of Vietnamese law,” Dung said at a briefing Thursday.

He said he had no information about the fourth activist, Nguyen Quoc Quan, who the pro-democracy group Viet Tan also claims was arrested over the weekend. Viet Tan identifies Quan as a US citizen.

Dung also refused to discuss what crime the activists are accused of committing.

“Now the people were arrested and detained, and their crimes will be defined later after the investigation,” he said.

The detained activists are members of the overseas-Vietnamese group Viet Tan (Reform), which works to end one-party communist rule.

They were arrested while meeting with Vietnamese citizens to discuss “peaceful democratic change” in Vietnam, according to Viet Tan.

Police surrounded the house where the meeting was taking place and then raided the home with more than a dozen officers, seizing materials, Viet Tan said citing a witness to the raid.

Among other things, the activists were passing out copies of a book called From Dictatorship to Democracy in a Vietnamese translation, according to a Viet Tan spokeswoman.

Communist-run Vietnam bans any political opposition and “propaganda against the Socialist Republic” is a crime that carries prison terms of up to 20 years.

In the past year, about a dozen prominent Vietnamese dissidents have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, often accused by authorities of colluding with “hostile forces” based overseas.

The French and US embassies in Hanoi said Tuesday they had not been informed by the Vietnamese government of the arrests but were looking into the matter.

Vietnam has in recent years arrested several US citizens working for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. (dpa)

Vietnam confirms arrests of 3 foreign citizens for violation of law

http://www.pr-inside.com/vietnam-confirms-arrests-of-3-foreign-r313153.htm

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Three foreigners have been arrested in Vietnam for violating national laws, an official said Thursday, in an apparent crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the country. U.S. citizen Truong Leon, French citizen Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and Thai national Somsak Khumi were arrested at the weekend, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung told reporters at a regular press briefing. Dung did not say what laws the three broke, saying police were still investigating. On Tuesday, a U.S.-based pro-democracy group said Vietnamese security police had detained six pro-democracy activists, including two U.S. citizens, a French citizen and a Thai national. Police arrested the activists while they were meeting in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, according to Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform, a California-based group that claims to have members around the world and underground in Vietnam. The group said the two Americans and the French citizen were members of Viet Tan. The other three detainees were a Thai and two Vietnamese. The detainees were discussing with other activists how to promote peaceful democratic change before security police arrested them at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Viet Tan. Separately, two Vietnamese lawyers jailed for advocating a multiparty state in Vietnam were scheduled to appear before a court in Hanoi next Tuesday to appeal their sentences, Dung said. After a trial last May, Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to five years in jail and Le Thi Cong Nhan to four years. They were also ordered to serve four years and three years of probation respectively after their release. Vietnam’s ruling communist party does not tolerate challenges to its rule.

US Congressional reps take up case of U.S. citizens arrested in Vietnam

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/11/22/america/NA-GEN-US-Vietnam-US-Dissidents.php

SANTA ANA, California: Three U.S. Congressional representatives have written a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for her help in gaining the release of two political activists arrested in Vietnam.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie wrote on behalf of the U.S. citizens who were arrested Saturday while holding a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We are disappointed to hear that the government of Vietnam has arrested United States citizens in Vietnam for reportedly having a peaceful discussion,” the letter read.

“Not only do we ask you to work to return these United States citizens to the United States, but we ask you to convey to the government of Vietnam that the arbitrary detention of United States citizens is unacceptable.”

Vietnamese security police detained six pro-democracy activists, including the two U.S. citizens, a French citizen and a Thai citizen, over the weekend, according to the U.S.-based pro-democracy group called Viet Tan.

The two U.S. citizens arrested were Nguyen Quoc Quan, a co-founder of the Vietnamese Professional Society and mathematician who lives in Sacramento, and Truong Van Ba, a community activist who lives in Honolulu.

Viet Tan said Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, a journalist from Paris, France, and Somsak Khunmi, from Ubon, Thailand, were also detained, along with two Vietnamese citizens.

The detainees were having a discussion with other activists about promoting peaceful democratic change before security police arrested them at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Viet Tan.

U.S. Embassy officials confirmed that a U.S. citizen was arrested over the weekend but released no further details. They are requesting an interview with him and investigating the reasons for his arrest.

Sanchez asks Rice to help Vietnamese detainees

http://www.ocregister.com/news/citizens-vietnam-vietnamese-1926773-states-arrested

Three lawmakers write letter after two U.S. citizens arrested in Ho Chi Minh City.

WASHINGTON – Rep. Loretta Sanchez and two other members of Congress sent a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to persuade the Vietnamese government to release two U.S. citizens arrested Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We are disappointed to hear that the government of Vietnam has arrested United States citizens in Vietnam for reportedly having a peaceful discussion,” Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, wrote to Rice. “Not only do we ask you to work to return these United States citizens to the United States, but we ask you to convey to the government of Vietnam that the arbitrary detention of United States citizens is unacceptable.”

According to news reports, Vietnamese police arrested six political activists, including citizens of France and Thailand. Sanchez and Lofgren this month testified before a Foreign Relations subcommittee about what they said was an increased crackdown on political expression in Vietnam.

The two U.S. citizens arrested were Nguyen Quoc Quan, a co-founder of the Vietnamese Professional Society who lives in Sacramento, and Truong Van Ba, a community activist who lives in Honolulu.

The House earlier this year passed a bill that would tie future aid to Vietnam to the country’s human-rights record. The bill has been stalled in the Senate.

Reuters reported Tuesday that a Vietnamese government official declined to comment on the arrests. A U.S. embassy official said it had confirmation of the arrest of one U.S. citizen and had asked Hanoi for access.

Reuters also reported that Viet Tan, the Vietnamese Reform Party, said that the arrests occurred after the two U.S. citizens, one French citizen and on Thai citizen “participated in discussions with other democracy activists on promoting peaceful democratic change.”

Vietnam Arrests a New Activist Breed

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1686037,00.html

Vietnamese security agents had been tracking their quarry for days, and when police made their move on Nov. 17, they took no chances. At least 20 officers surrounded a house in Ho Chi Minh City and swarmed inside, arresting six people and confiscating documents connected to planned “democracy seminars”, witnesses told a pro-democracy group. Such raids are far from unusual: this year at least a dozen Vietnamese activists have been arrested, most charged with “propaganda against the Socialist Republic,” a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

But what made the weekend roundup different is that this time the targets were “hostile foreign elements”, as the Vietnamese government describes overseas activists — including two U.S. citizens, a Frenchwoman and a Thai national. As of Tuesday, there was no official word on what crime they are accused of; Vietnamese authorities refused to discuss the arrests.

All four of those detained are members of Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform), an organization of overseas Vietnamese working for political change in the motherland. According to the group, the banned materials the activists were distributing included a booklet called “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a summary of peaceful democratic movements from Eastern Europe to Indonesia and the Philippines. “This was simply a peaceful expression of these people’s beliefs,” says Duy Hoang, the group’s Washington, D.C.-based spokesman.

Viet Tan identified its arrested members as Nguyen Quoc Quan, 54, of California and Leon Truong, 54, of Hawaii, both U.S. citizens born in Vietnam. French-Vietnamese writer and activist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, 51, and ethnic-Vietnamese Thai national Khunmi Somsak, 58, were also arrested. The activists’ respective embassies said they are now trying to find out what law they are accused of breaking.

The latest arrests say a lot about Vietnam’s intolerance for dissent, but the circumstances of the raid — the democracy seminars — also illustrate new strategies that Vietnamese groups overseas are adopting to challenge the ruling Communist Party. For a long time, in Little Saigons around the world, anti-communist groups tended to be dominated by former officers of the South Vietnamese regime, pushing to create a government in exile, and had little contact with the people in Vietnam itself. Some groups continued to advocate violence: as late as 2001, members of the California-based Government of Free Vietnam were convicted of plotting the attempted bombings of Vietnamese embassies in Bangkok and Manila.

But in recent years, a younger generation of Western-raised Vietnamese has taken a different approach. These new activists — characterized by 35-year-old Hoang, a former investment banker who left Saigon in a boat with his family at age 12 — have been leading a p.r.-savvy campaign for Vietnam’s hearts and minds, ditching anti-communist rhetoric in favor of pro-democracy advocacy and strenuously denouncing violence in favor of peaceful grassroots movements. Viet Tan, founded in 1982, uses mass emails to recruit new members inside Vietnam (it won’t say how many) and coordinate them with dissident groups. It raises funds to funnel to sympathizers who hold democracy seminars inside the country. Members seek to convert Vietnamese studying in overseas universities to the cause. “This is not your father’s overseas Vietnamese political group,” says Hoang.

Regardless, the new-style pro-democracy groups have had difficulty making even the smallest political change inside Vietnam. Association with any overseas group — Hanoi still classifies most as terrorist organizations — is grounds for arrest; several of the Vietnamese activists put on trial this year had their links to overseas groups like Viet Tan used as evidence against them. “They are on the right side, advocating non-violent political change, but are they doing good?” asks Carl Thayer, a veteran Vietnam analyst who lectures at Australia’s National Defence University. “Any action like that provokes repression. The key leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Vietnam have been systematically rounded up. So they just aren’t getting any traction.” Its not clear whether the latest arrests will help get their message across, either. So far, reaction from the U.S. embassy and other foreign missions has been muted, with officials saying they are still seeking more information. Still, the targeting of foreign nationals, apparently for the crime of promoting democracy, is not likely to win many hearts and minds abroad.