Vietnam, U.S. Announce Agreement to Send Ex-Political Prisoners To U.S.
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ The United States and Vietnam on Sunday announced an agreement for former political prisoners and their relatives to be resettled in the United States, with the first group of 3,000 expected to leave this year.
A joint statement said the two sides hoped to begin by October ″a program for the resettlement in the United states of released re-education center detainees and their close family members who wish to emigrate to the United States.″
The communists toppled the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, and hundreds of thousands of people were put into the camps of manual labor and political study because of their ties with the old regime. Vietnam has said all but about 120 have been freed.
The U.S. government has sought a formal program for their resettlement since 1982, but political bickering and other problems barred progress.
The agreement was reached in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, in talks last week between teams led by Vu Khoan, Vietnamese assistant foreign minister, and Robert L. Funseth, U.S. senior deputy assistant secretary of state.
Funseth said the agreement ″starts healing the last big wound remaining from the war, which is that these people who were clearly associated with the United States have not been allowed to leave Vietnam and be united with their relatives in the United States.″
Funseth, speaking to reports in Bangkok on Sunday, said he also requested that Vietnam free the remaining prisoners as soon as possible.
In the joint statement, the U.S. government said it will not encourage resettled prisoners to engage in activities hostile to Vietnam and said it opposed such activities.
Vietnam says exiles have engaged in anti-communist agitation and even organized armed forays into Vietnam to try to overthrow the government.
The statement said the program would be in addition to existing programs for resettling Amerasians - children of American fathers and Vietnamese mothers - and of other refugees and migrants under the Orderly Departure Program.
It said the two sides ″expressed hope that the first group of 3,000 persons for resettlement in the United States under this agreement will depart Vietnam before the end of the year after processing is completed.″
The statement did not say how many people in all may eventually leave Vietnam under the program.
A U.S. source in Bangkok, speaking anonymously, said Washington estimates about 100,000 Vietnamese sent to re-education camps are among the 600,000 who have applied to emigrate to the United States.
The Vietnamese estimate former inmates and their families number 550,000, he said.
Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach said in June that 94,000 re- education prisoners had been freed in the past decade.
In August 1988, Hanoi suspended talks on resettlement to protest U.S. refusal to consider diplomatic ties until Vietnam ends its occupation of Cambodia. Hanoi agreed to resume talks during last month’s international conference on Indochinese refugees held in Geneva.
Cooperation on humanitarian issues is expected to improve further after Vietnam withdraws from Cambodia. It has promised to do so by the end of September.