Foreign forces leave Vietnam, as search for lost jet ends

By Phan Hau, Thanh Nien News

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A Vietnamese military aircraft parked on the southern resort island of Phu Quoc, where Vietnam set up a base for an eight-day search for a missing Malaysian airplane. PHOTO: DOC LAP
All ships and aircraft sent to Vietnam by foreign countries, including China, to search for a missing Malaysian jet have left the country as Vietnam has halted its search, a local official said on Monday.
Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of the Army General Staff, told the press that after Vietnam announced that it had ended the search on Saturday, two Chinese ships were still present in its waters.
But, as of Sunday evening, all Chinese ships had left Vietnam’s waters, he said.
Tuan said Vietnam licensed foreign ships and aircraft to enter its airspace and waters for the sole purpose of looking for the lost airplane.
So, when Vietnam decided to end the search, they had to stop their activities as well and leave the country’s territory, he said.
Vietnam stopped searching for the airplane after Malaysia confirmed that it had called off the hunt for wreckage around its scheduled flight path.
The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese nationals, before entering Vietnam’s airspace on March 8. It was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The search for the doomed jetliner has been expanded to cover an arc that stretches from northern Thailand to the borders of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and another from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean west of Australia, Reuters reported.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a press conference on Saturday that investigators believed someone aboard deliberately shut down the airplane’s communications and tracking systems, and diverted it off its course.
According to Tuan, Vietnam has yet to receive any official request from Malaysia to send aircraft and boats to assist that country in the new search areas.
If Malaysia makes the request, Vietnam will consider it so that the country can make a plan to attend the search suitably, as Vietnamese aircraft and boats are not expeditionary ones with the ability to operate for too long a time, and such a search is costly, he said.
For the last eight-day search, Vietnam dispatched 11 military aircraft and seven boats to scan more than 100,000 square kilometers of water surface in its flying information region (FIR), Tuan said.
The official, however, did not confirm reports that Vietnam spent around VND20 billion (US$937,000) on the search every day, but also said the cost could be high, given the search’s scale.
The Ministry of Defense is still calculating the total expenditure that will announced as part of the defense ministry's budget, he said.
For Vietnam, the top priority was to look for the airplane and rescuing the people aboard as soon as possible, not the cost of the search, Tuan said.

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