China told to release fishermen after latest arrest

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China must probe latest allegations that its people were holding 12 Vietnamese fishermen for ransom, and release them unconditionally, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Monday.

The fishermen, on a boat from the central province of Quang Ngai, were illegally detained last Monday when they were fishing in the waters surrounding the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago over which Vietnam has proved its historic sovereignty.

Chinese authorities have asked for 70,000 Yuan (US$10,264) in ransom for releasing them, Nguyen Thi Buoi, wife of the boat's captain and owner, Tieu Viet La, told Thanh Nien.  

La contacted his family by phone three days after they were apprehended, Buoi said, adding that this was the fourth time her family's boat has been attacked and seized by China over the past four years.

In the meantime, Nguyen Thanh Hung, vice chairman of Quang Ngai's Binh Chau Commune People's Committee, was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying that local authorities had asked fishermen's families from paying the ransom to China.

"The commune's People's Committee is determined not to let people give money to China when they fish in our national waters," Hung said.

Local people are fully aware that the waters belong to Vietnam, but were borrowing money to pay the demanded ransom for the sake of their family members' safety, he added.

According to Hung, China last year seized 38 fishermen and three boats in Binh Chau and confiscated their properties worth some VND2 billion.

It was "unbearable" for local fishermen to be captured and asked for money continuously by China when they were fishing in the waters surrounding the Hoang Sa archipelago, which was their main source of livelihood, Hung said.

"Without fishing off the Hoang Sa archipelago, Binh Chau fishermen cannot do anything but quit fishing," he added.

Overall Quang Ngai has seen 33 boats and 373 fishermen arrested by China since 2005.

In a recent interview with Thanh Nien, Truong Ngoc Nhi, vice chairman of Quang Ngai People's Committee, said China must compensate Vietnamese fishermen for the mental and physical agony caused by the repeated arrests which were "inhuman and unacceptable".

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