Vietnamese mark fall of Saigon
THOUSANDS of Vietnamese detainees refused food, shouted slogans and burned effigies yesterday on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
Vietnamese community leaders prevailed on detainees to restrain from slashing their stomachs or attempting fiery suicides to protest against the Hong Kong Government's forced repatriations.
The detainees have planned for months to hold a mass demonstration on the 19th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam to northern communist forces.
Inmates of Tai A Chau, High Island and Whitehead detention centres all took part, but camp workers and government spokesmen gave different versions of events.
At Tai A Chau, 213 former Vietnamese soldiers, policemen, American special forces and state officials published a letter and petition to United States President Bill Clinton, urging him to step in and prevent their repatriation.
The letter said: ''We stood in the same frontlines and the same trenches as Americans. We shared the same dream and were willing to sacrifice our bodies as the bridge-head of the free world to fight against the communists.
''Mr President . . . we sincerely hope you, with your responsibility, authority and influence, can help us to emigrate to a third country. And at the same time discuss with the Hong Kong Government and the United Nations representatives in Hong Kong not to repatriate us to the dead place under the Hanoi rule.
''The USA's firm stance is even more important today, and it could stop an inhumane tragedy.'' Government spokesmen said 92 people were on hunger strike at Tai A Chau, where two strikers - a man and woman - were admitted to the camp clinic.
About 4,500 people demonstrated and 34 refused food at Whitehead camp, where police and Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers stormed section seven and tear-gassed inmates on April 7.
A CSD spokesman reported that 1,760 had refused food at High Island camp.
''The situation is generally peaceful,'' a government spokesman said.
A Tai A Chau source yesterday scorned government claims that ''in Tai A Chau, there were no demonstrations and the number of hunger strikers is 92''.
''The people are demonstrating and they burnt a dummy of President Ho Chi Minh and one of [Vietnamese Prime Minister] Vo Van Kiet,'' he said.
''The whole camp is on hunger strike. Some people were trying to slash themselves, but the [community] organisation is stopping them.'' Camp managers and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees staff were present but kept a low profile.
Another source said High Island and Whitehead detainees were protesting peacefully.
''Nothing untoward has happened so far,'' he said.
''The plan was for everyone, except the very elderly, sick and children to go on hunger strike in all the camps.'' A Taiwan-based Buddhist group, the International Supreme Master Ching Hai Association, staged a prayer rally and collected signatures against forced repatriation in Central yesterday.
The group has reportedly offered US$5 million (HK$38.6 million) to help the Hong Kong Government find asylum for the Vietnamese.