Buddhist monk set fire to himself during CSD raid

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 1995, 12:00am

ONE of the Vietnamese taken to hospital after the High Island detention centre raid this week was a novice Buddhist monk who tried to set himself on fire rather than be deported to Vietnam.

Vuong Thanh Binh, is recovering in Queen Elizabeth Hospital from burns to much of his lower body and is said to have set his clothes on fire after leading rooftop prayers. He is in a fair condition.

Refugee lawyer Pam Baker said last night that Binh, in his 50s, was a religious leader in the camp and feared that he would be repatriated next week.

'Rather than go back, he turned to what he must have believed was his last option, self-immolation,' she said.

Almost 1,000 Correctional Services Department (CSD) and police raided High Island on Thursday to remove 38 people who had refused to leave for pre-repatriation processing.

Binh has been the subject of urgent appeals this week to the Government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees based on a recent Human Rights Watch (Asia) report identifying continued persecution of Buddhist monks in Vietnam. Mrs Baker has asked both to intervene.

He has the offer of sponsorship to join his religious order in France where his previous master resides.

Mrs Baker said the CSD confirmed Binh's role in looking after religious matters for people in his section.

Following Thursday's operation, recommendations have been issued for charcoal stoves, used as weapons against security forces, to be removed before future operations.

Burning chunks of charcoal and the heavy clay stoves were hurled from rooftops at CSD officers.

Independent monitors from Oxfam and Christian Action and two justices of the peace delivered their report yesterday and suggested that if the stoves were not removed a few days before future operations, an alternative means of re-heating be considered.

The report suggested that Vietnamese not taking part in protests be issued with food and water while women and children be placed in an isolated area.

Despite violent confrontations and 47 CSD officers being treated for injuries, the monitors concluded that the five-hour operation was without 'major incident'. Eight Vietnamese were treated. Binh is the only one still in hospital.

'Throughout the operation, we observed that the disciplined forces acted with restraint and patience. We saw that they have a adopted a passive, self-protective approach towards VMs [Vietnamese migrants],' the report said.

It said most Vietnamese were quiet and followed directions from CSD staff.

The report said about 90 minutes after entering the camp, the monitors were told that a tear-gas grenade had been used. The Security Branch later identified it as a smoke grenade.