Extortion continues

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More than a month after seizing two Vietnamese boats in Vietnamese waters with 21 fishermen on board, a Chinese government agency continues to demand a ransom for their release despite official intervention by the Vietnamese government.

Le Thi Phuc, wife of Tran Hien, captain of one of the boats, told Vietweek Monday (April 9) that on March 28 her family had called the Chinese agency and asked to speak to the fishermen, but they were not allowed to.

"They said that we need to pay some money to talk to the fishermen and for them to be released, and that it is useless to make further phone calls," she said, adding that her family had not tried again since then.

The Chinese agency, reportedly the Nanhai Sea Fisheries Bureau, has demanded US$233,000 to release the fishermen and boats it seized near the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago on March 3.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi has demanded that China release the fishermen unconditionally since they were working in Vietnam's sovereign waters.

The Vietnamese Fisheries Society also made a similar demand in a letter to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

According to Phuc, her family cannot afford to pay the ransom since its only asset is the seized fishing boat.

The families of all the fishermen have been writing to related agencies to seek their intervention to free their loved ones soon, she said.

She is worried that the fishermen would be assaulted, given that her husband had been ill-treated once before when he was taken in by Chinese personnel.

Le Thi Hau, the wife of another of the captive fisherman, said: "I wonder how the Chinese treat them. What I'm worried most about is that they have probably been beaten."

Pham Thi Huong, vice chairwoman of Ly Son District, where the fishermen hail from, said local authorities are telling the families not to pay the ransom.

In the first three months of this year, 93 fishermen and eight fishing boats from Quang Ngai have been detained by foreign forces.

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