Vietnam demands China release fishing boats unconditionally

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Vietnamese foreign ministry's spokesman demanded Wednesday that China unconditionally release two fishing boats with 21 sailors onboard that were detained off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands earlier this month.

According to spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi, a representative from the ministry has handed over to the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam a diplomatic note reaffirming Vietnam's sovereignty over the archipelago and its determination to protect Vietnamese fishermen.

Previously, on Tuesday, authorities in the central province of Quang Ngai announced that Chinese forces detained two boats from Ly Son District and asked each to pay 70,000 yuan (US$11,000) to be freed.

The boats were seized on March 3, but China did not request ransom money or allow the fishermen to contact their family to inform them of their detention until March 12, the Ly Son District's People's Committee said.

Le Thi Phuc, the wife of Tran Hien, captain of one of the seized boats, said her husband has called her three to four times over the past ten days, reminding her to send money to a bank account.

There was one time a Chinese person called her to urge her to pay ransom, Phuc said, adding that she then had to ask for help from a Chinese-speaking acquaintance.

This was not the first time Hien's boat was harassed by Chinese forces. Last year he was robbed twice, incurring total damages of nearly VND200 million ($9,500).

Last month a fishing boat with 11 onboard, also from Quang Ngai, was attacked by a Chinese vessel as it approached Hoang Sa seeking shelter from strong winds.

Following the reports of fishermen who were robbed and beaten, the foreign ministry's representative demanded China pay them compensation and cease with their attacks on Vietnamese vessels.

Last week, Nghi also requested that China stop violating Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, after it was reported that the country had recently begun initiating business plans on and around the islands.

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