China frees Vietnamese fishermen unconditionally

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China has unconditionally released nine fishermen who were arrested September 11, Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh told the press in Hanoi Monday.


Thanh announced the release on the sidelines of the retreat of the first ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+).


Thanh applauded China's decision indicating that the release amounted to an act of goodwill.


China had previously demanded 70,000 yuan (US$10,461) in fines after accusing the Vietnamese citizens of using explosives for fishing.


However, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that the Quang Ngai fishermen used only nets and lights in Vietnamese waters off the coast of the Hoang Sa Archipelago (Paracel Islands).


The ministry has issued repeated demands that China free the men unconditionally.


Asked how the two countries deal with the fact that China has continuously arrested Vietnamese fishermen when they are legally fishing at Vietnamese seas, Thanh said the two countries have established a joint patrol protocol between their naval forces.


This will help keep security at sea and make it easier for fishermen, he said.


The two countries have also discussed need for cooperation in research and rescue at sea, the minister said.


Over the past three years Vietnam has rescued 45 Chinese fishermen and China has praised the action, he added.


According to Thanh, Vietnam and China share both land and sea borders, so it's inevitable that fishermen from both countries will occaisionally encroach on one another's seas.


The boat full of fiserman has yet to return to Vietnam, however. Some fear it was released into open water without proper communication equipment.

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