FOUR boat people who have accused the Government of detaining them illegally could be accepted back by Vietnam even though they claim Taiwanese nationality, according to a senior civil servant. The four, along with one Vietnamese, have launched a landmark case against the Government which could result in a large claim for compensation. The group says the authorities have no power to hold them in the detention camps, as no country will accept them. They claim Vietnam will not take them back because it has a policy of refusing non-nationals. Three of the four of the boat people holding Taiwanese passports - Tan Te Lam, 43, Phung Huan, 58, and Ly Hue My, 28 - are married to Vietnamese. They have not applied for voluntary repatriation, saying there is no point because Vietnam would automatically reject them. The fourth, Luu Tai Phong, 40, claims he has applied, but had been rejected. The fifth, Ly Vinh Kien, 30, is an ethnic Chinese who spent eight years in China after leaving Vietnam. But senior immigration officer Choy Ping-tai claimed it was 'mere speculation' Vietnam would reject them. In an affidavit presented to the High Court yesterday, he stated 2,469 ethnic Chinese had been returned to Vietnam under voluntary or forced repatriation schemes. Mr Choy, assistant director of the Vietnamese Refugees Branch, said some had Taiwanese passports. He agreed Vietnam had rejected others claiming Taiwanese nationality, but said the Government was still negotiating for their return through the British Embassy in Hanoi. 'Vietnam has accepted back many Chinese, including persons claiming Taiwanese nationality,' he said. 'Our view is that particularly ethnic Chinese with close family who are Vietnamese nationals will be accepted by Vietnam and that the contrary view is very unlikely to be vindicated. 'The view expressed by [Tan, Phung and Ly Hue My] is mere speculation which must be put to the test by their applying for voluntary repatriation or by processing under ORP [orderly repatriation programme].' Mr Choy said the fifth asylum seeker, Ly Vinh Kien, could be sent to China with eight other ethnic Chinese boat people next month. Ly Vinh Kien claimed he should be released because he had been rejected by both China and Vietnam but Mr Choy said he was only provisionally refused by China in 1992 because it had found no record of his having settled there. But he had since been accepted after Chinese Government representatives visited the territory last month to interview all remaining Sino-Vietnamese illegal immigrants. He agreed Ly Vinh Kien's 'special circumstances' made it unlikely he would be accepted back by Vietnam. The next ethnic Chinese to be repatriated are expected to leave for Yunnan province on January 12. Mr Choy claimed Luu had not been rejected but had withdrawn his application for repatriation in January. He said straightforward cases normally took six weeks to process, but very complex ones could take more than 12 months. To date, 45,350 boat people have returned to Vietnam. About 23,000 are still awaiting removal, 5,000 of them ethnic Chinese. Mr Choy submitted the affidavit after Mr Justice Keith and Peter Graham, lawyer for the boat people, asked for more details on the applicants and the repatriation of ethnic Chinese. The case is continuing.