Vietnam minister warns against using psychics to find war martyrs' remains

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 Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh speaks to the media on the sidelines of a National Assembly session October 30 / PHOTO: NGOC THANG

Minister of Defence Phung Quang Thanh has urged people not to trust psychics in their search for war martyrs' remains, saying his ministry, the agency authorized to search, has never relied on them.

He was speaking to the media on the sidelines of a National Assembly session Thursday, amid a raging controversy over the trustworthiness of mediums and clairvoyants, many of whom are hired by people to find the remains of relatives killed in the war.

Two days earlier a couple who claimed to be mediums were arrested in the central province of Quang Tri for allegedly cheating people out of billions of dong with fake tombs and remains.

It is "unacceptable" that some people make use of people's trust in clairvoyants to commit fraud and earn money, he said, referring to the scam by Nguyen Thanh Thuy, 54, and his wife, Man Thi Duyen, 54.

Such frauds need to be charged criminally, he said.

"I advise people not to trust clairvoyants."

Those who have information related to the location of soldiers' remains need to inform the ministry, he said.

"We will facilitate the search."

According to Thanh, military headquarters in every province and city in the south currently has teams tasked with the mission.

Asked if the ministry has ever collaborated with clairvoyants, he said "never."

To search for martyrs' remains, the ministry depends on information from maps and former colleagues and also on American veterans and ex-soldiers of the former Republic of Vietnam (1946-1975), he said.

In response to a question that a few senior officers' remains had been discovered by mediums, the minister said he is not "totally certain" about their identities.

He advised families who find the remains of their relatives by themselves to get DNA tests done.

The government pays for the tests to identify martyrs' remains if their families file a request, he said.

Minister of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs Pham Thi Hai Chuyen told the media that in July 2011 the ministry asked its agencies to strictly work with local authorities and the military to locate and excavate martyrs' remains.

She said her ministry made the decision after discovering the involvement of dubious psychics.

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The Ministry of Defence is in charge of finding martyrs' remains, and the Ministry of Labors, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) identifies them.

According to official figures, since 1976 the remains of nearly 940,000 soldiers have been found.

Authorities hope to find another 200,000 by 2020.

It is estimated that the remains of around 500,000 martyrs have not been found or identified.

Families across the country continue to search for them using both official channels and mediums though controversies over the reliability of telepathy have been swirling for many years.

However, despite this, some psychics like Phan Thi Bich Hang have made a name for themselves. She is renowned for locating the remains of many military leaders and ostensibly finding the mass graves of 4,000 martyrs on Phu Quoc Island in 2008.

In January this year, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations set up the Institute for Research and Applications of Human Potentialities, which includes a division for finding missing martyrs using telepathy.

The institute was originally the Center for Research of Human Potentialities, which was founded in 1996 as licensed by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

In 2011 MoLISA honored 38 people, mostly psychics, working with the center for their contributions to the search for martyrs' remains.

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