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Today@ABS-CBN : Vietnam restricts Cambodian, Burmese activists

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HANOI – As 800 activists discuss wide-ranging issues on economic and human rights at the five-day Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in the People’s Forum here, countries like Cambodia and Burma have apparently put pressure on Vietnamese authorities to restrain critical groups from airing their sentiments to gain international support.

At least 10 Cambodians, including a former senator, were detained at the Ho Chi Minh Airport on Sunday and barred from participating in the People’s Forum where, among others, antiterrorism measures that lead to curtailment of freedom and rights, as well as trade liberalization and social security issues, were discussed.

Tom Crick, Asia program officer of the London-based One World Action, said the Vietnamese government barred the entry to Hanoi of the 10 Cambodian delegates representing human rights and good governance groups as they arrived at Ho Chi Minh Airport on Sunday.

He said Cambodian former senator Phay Siphan was supposed to deliver a very ‘angry’ speech today (Thursday) on the worsening human rights situation in Cambodia, owing to state repression.

Siphan heads the Cambodia Center for Human Rights and has been expelled as a senator for his harsh criticism of the Cambodian government.

“ The Cambodian government has apparently negotiated with the Vietnamese government not to allow the Cambodian delegates to attend because it would be embarrassing to the Cambodian government,” said Crick in an interview here.

Crick’s group invited 60 delegates from the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and other Asian countries, but the Cambodians were the only ones barred from going to Hanoi.

Fifty delegates are attending from the Philippines, the biggest group. They include professors Walden Bello, Nymia Simbulan and Liddy Nakpil Alejandro.

At the same time, two delegates from Burma who slipped through various channels to be able to attend the forum were told by the secretariat of the People’s Forum not to distribute campaign materials on the saga of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Other activists helping the Burmese have not been allowed to distribute their campaign materials for a signature campaign demanding that the European Union continue to block the entry of Burma’s military regime in the ASEM.

The Vietnamese government organizers have also blocked various local journalists, both of those working for state- owned media institutions and correspondents of international news agencies, from joining the 29 workshops, including a particular dialogue on media and democracy.

The local organizers explained that the logistics and space problem could not allow them to accommodate journalists.

Crick said the 10 Cambodians were first detained at the Ho Chi Minh Airport, but he negotiated with the Vietnamese foreign ministry so the delegates would be allowed to go to Hanoi.However, after negotiations, only four of the delegates were allowed to go to Hanoi, so “the entire group decided that they should instead go back home because they are concerned about their security in Hanoi,” said Crick.

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