Viet convicts amnesty deal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 1995, 12:00am

AN unusual amnesty plan for escaped convicts who fled to Hong Kong from Vietnam has been revealed by Hanoi in a bid to give assurances to boat people unwilling to return.

The number of boat people detained in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region who escaped Vietnam after being sentenced for crimes remains unclear.

But London embassy counsellor Phan Binh Man said escaped convicts whose return to Vietnam came after the end of their original sentence would not be re-arrested.

'If someone received a verdict of five years but escaped before they served it all and then came back to Vietnam six years after the original sentence was handed down, they would not go back to jail,' Mr Pham said.

'All will be forgotten for these people. Times have changed in Vietnam.' However, Mr Pham was less positive about the future for people who would be returning to face proceedings for crimes they are alleged to have committed before escaping to Hong Kong.

'Of course, those people who have not been arrested and tried for things they did before they left will be arrested when they come back,' Mr Pham said.

The number of people facing outstanding warrants is also unclear.

The British Embassy in Hanoi is obliged to maintain a monitoring role overseeing the legal process undertaken against returnees who are arrested.

Diplomats have expressed concern that access has been restricted to at least one man who returned from Hong Kong and was given a life sentence.

Mr Pham said visits by British Embassy staff or members of the International Committee of the Red Cross would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

'We are open to all requests for jail visits and I would suggest that in the right circumstances and done in the right way, visits will be allowed. Each case has different circumstances,' he added.

The Red Cross has been negotiating for several years to be allowed full and open access to jails in Vietnam.

A spokesman at the organisation's Geneva headquarters said the issue of gaining full access for jail visits was a long process which had 'some way to go'.