Police presence 'too heavy' as Viets move

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 1996, 12:00am

Police chiefs should cut the numbers of officers brought in to clear 5,500 boat people from Tai A Chau to Whitehead, independent monitors said yesterday.

More than 500 police, 21 police boats and 20 trucks were deployed for the official start of the biggest such transfer operation.

But independent monitors suggested the heavy police presence, which included 350 police tactical unit officers, was unnecessary.

Vietnamese inside the camp were understood to be surprised at the number of officers on duty when they had repeatedly promised there will be no trouble.

Yesterday saw 496 boat people transferred 50 kilometres from Tai A Chau off Lantau to Whitehead near Sai Kung by ferry and truck.

The Vietnamese started filing out of the camp shortly after 8 am clutching bags, washing up bowls, straw hats, umbrellas and even guitars.

Families huddled together under a makeshift tarpaulin shelter to protect them from the blazing sun as they waited to be searched before boarding the boats.

Officers used metal detectors to check for weapons. None was found.

Two police launches and two police speedboats escorted the two open ferries to Stonecutters Island where the Vietnamese were transferred to trucks for the journey to Whitehead.

Senior assistant commissioner Benny Ng Ching-kwok was not surprised by the lack of trouble.

'Right from the start we've been maintaining very close liaison and have been consulting with them on how the actual camp removal should be conducted. They have given us advice and assistance,' he said.

The four independent monitors, Justices of the Peace Tang Pui-tai and Choy Wai-shek, Peter Fung from Christian Action and Yau Sun-kit from Caritas commended police for their 'humane and warm-hearted' treatment of the boat people, especially the children.

But they added: 'It is felt police could scale down the number of the officers in the operation if no further untoward incidents occur.' Mr Ng refused to be drawn on whether the Vietnamese would have problems adjusting to Whitehead after life at the Government's 'showcase camp'.

Detainees at Tai A Chau are allowed out for eight hours a day and are free to roam the island.