VIETNAMESE MILITARY, UNEXPLODED BOMBS, TERRORISM AND INSURGENCIES

VIETNAMESE MILITARY

Vietnam has one of the largest militaries in the world— 482,000 active troops in 2011— even though this is less than half what it once was. In addition to providing defense, the Vietnamese military is powerful politically and owns businesses and is involved in commercial activity.

Since Vietnam fought against the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1978–89, it has demobilized about 500,000 troops and cut military spending. Still, Vietnam has one of the region’s largest and most powerful militaries. Furthermore, the People’s Army of Vietnam remains politically influential, and many senior officers have obtained leadership positions in the Central Committee and Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The military’s prestige stems from its formidable track record against such major world military powers as France, the United States, and China and its deep roots in society. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Despite having fought a border war with China in 1979, Vietnam does not face an identifiable military enemy. However, sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea remains in dispute with China and several other nations. In addition, Cambodia and Laos have protested incursions by Vietnamese squatters. Vietnam cooperates militarily with India and China. Vietnam advises India on how to combat guerrilla warfare. India helps maintain Vietnam’s MiG fighter planes and helps Vietnam manufacture small- and medium-sized weapons. In 2001 Vietnam bolstered its military cooperation with China. Russia has reduced its military presence in Vietnam since it abandoned control over the Camh Ranh Bay Naval Base in 2001 because it could not afford the expense. *

Defense Budget: $2.66 billion. Military expenditures: 2.5 percent of GDP (2005 est.) country comparison to the world: 54. In 2003 Vietnam’s defense budget was estimated at US$2.3 billion.

Vietnamese Military Units and Service

Military branches: People's Armed Forces: People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN; includes Vietnam People's Navy (with Naval Infantry), Vietnam People's Air and Air Defense Force, Border Defense Command) (2013). [Source: CIA World Factbook **]

Major Military Units: Vietnam’s active-duty military consists of a 412,000-member army, a 42,000-member navy, a 30,000-member air and air defense force, and a 40,000-member paramilitary border defense corps. The army, which is deployed in nine military regions (including Hanoi), consists of headquarters, 58 infantry divisions, 3 mechanized infantry divisions, 10 armored battalions, 15 independent infantry regiments, special forces and airborne brigades, 10 field artillery brigades, 8 engineering divisions, 10 to 15 economic construction divisions, and 20 independent engineering brigades. The navy, including naval infantry, is deployed in four naval regions. The People’s Air Force consists of three air divisions, each with three regiments. Paramilitary Forces: Vietnam has a 4-million to 5-million-member paramilitary reserve force, consisting of the People’s Self-Defense Force and the rural People’s Militia. [Source: Library of Congress*]

Military Service: Military service is compulsory, usually for two years. In late 2001, Vietnam reinstated the requirement that women register for military service. However, barring an emergency mobilization, they are unlikely to be called up. Mandatory military service for women had been abandoned in 1975 at the end of the nation’s civil war. Military age and obligation: 18 years of age for male compulsory military service; females may volunteer for active duty military service; conscript service obligation - 2 years (3 to 4 years in the navy); 18-45 years of age (male) or 18-40 years of age (female) for Militia Force or Self Defense Forces (2006). * and **

Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 25,649,738; females age 16-49: 24,995,692 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 20,405,847; females age 16-49: 21,098,102 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 847,743; female: 787,341 (2010 est.) **

See Relations with United States

Vietnamese Military Weapons

Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 1,315 main battle tanks, 620 light tanks, 100 reconnaissance vehicles, 300 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 1,380 armored personnel carriers, 2,300 towed artillery, and more than 30 self-propelled artillery. The army also has an unspecified number of combined gun/mortars, assault guns, multiple rocket launchers, mortars, surface-to-surface missiles, antitank guided weapons, recoilless launchers, air defense guns, and surface-to-air missiles. The navy has 2 Yugo-class submarines, 6 frigates, 1 corvette, 12 missile craft, 10 torpedo craft, 19 inshore patrol combatants, 10 mine warfare ships, 6 amphibious ships, and at least 30 support craft. The People’s Air Force has 189 combat aircraft (53 Su–22, 12 Su–27, and 124 MiG–21) and 26 Mi–24 armed helicopters. [Source: Library of Congress, 2004]

Defense Industry Daily reported: “Rosoboronexport and the Zelenodolsk Gorky Plant have finished shipping Vietnam’s 1st 2 Gepard Class frigates, and have just signed a contract for 2 more. Unlike the first set, however, the next 2 will concentrate on anti-submarine warfare, rather than surface attack missions. Stealthy Gepard Class light frigates will add surface warfare and patrol punch, alongside new Molniya/ Project 12418 missile-armed Fast Attack Craft to help modernize a fleet that’s mostly made up of aging Soviet FACs and captured American ships from the Vietnam War. In the air, Vietnam’s SU-27 air superiority fighters will be joined by new multi-role SU-30 planes from the same fighter family, strengthening air defenses and adding a long-range strike capability. [Source: Defense Industry Daily, March 31, 2013 ////]

Phun.vn cites a report from the mysterious site "Periscope 2," wherein it’s suggested that Vietnam plans to replace its fleet of 50 or so aged SU-22 strike aircraft with SU-34s, and that export approval will be given immediately, once it’s requested. The report also suggests that Saab JAS-39 Gripens will replace the VPAF’s even older fleet of 150 or so MiG-21s, that L-159s may replace existing L-39 trainers alongside Vietnam’s reported Yak-130 options, and that Vietnam may be interested in C295-AEW planes. All of the above are possible, and militarily reasonable choices. Even the L-159 could be reasonable, if bought second-hand as a dual role trainer and MiG-21 fill in, to give the VPAF a dual Russian & western fleet with appropriate weapon options. The thing is, "reasonable" doesn’t mean "likely", and DID could find no other reports along these lines. Any of the non-trainer deals would be quite expensive, and Vietnam’s economy is a bit shaky these days external link. In addition, all of the non-Russian equipment would require export approval for American military items. We throw this item in for reader interest, with a strong caution concerning its reliability. ////

RIA Novosti reports that Vietnam will begin joint production of a modified SS-N-25 Switchblade/ Kh-35 Uran external link subsonic anti-ship missile, whose base characteristics are similar to the American The project is described as similar to joint Russian-Indian production of the PJ-10 BrahMos missile, which was derived from the supersonic SS-N-26 Yakhont. The Kh-35 can be launched from Ka-27 naval helicopters, ships, or shore batteries, but hasn’t been integrated with Vietnam’s new SU-30MK model fighters, or its forthcoming Kilo Class submarines. Even so , this joint venture will give Vietnam assured low-cost production and support for an important element of naval deterrence in the South China Sea. The Kh-35 looks set to become Vietnam’s mainstay anti-ship missile for its navy, and a joint project also gives them a base to make changes. India undertook to integrate Brahmos with its Su-30MKI fighters, for example, and Vietnam may have similar plans for their modified Kh-35 project. Then, too, the urge to use locally-built weapons in new ships is deep-seated, even though Kilo Class submarines are already configured for 3M54 Klub family (SS-N-27) missiles. Time will tell what the Vietnamese plan to do with this shared technology. ////

Vietnam Buys Russian Submarines

In March 2013, Defense Industry Daily reported: “In April 2009, reports surfaced that Vietnam had agreed in principle to a deal with Russia for 6 of its diesel-electric Kilo/ Project 636 Class fast attack submarines. There have been rumors that Vietnam owns 2 ex-Yugoslav mini-submarines for use in commando operations, but the Vietnamese People’s Navy doesn’t own any full size submarines that can take on enemy subs and ships. That’s about to change, thanks to a December 2009 contract. [Source: Defense Industry Daily, March 31, 2013 ////]

“Aside from Thyssen Krupp Marine’s U209 family of submarines, the Russian Kilo Class are the world’s most widely exported subs. They’re known for a level of quietness that’s significantly better than other Russian designs, and have been produced in the Project 877EKM external link, and the Project 636M "Improved Kilo" external link variant that Vietnam is receiving. Countries operating or ordering these submarines include Russia, Algeria, China, India, Iran, Poland, and Romania. ////

“There had been some speculation that Vietnam’s emphasis on shallow water operations, and proximity to the Straits of Malacca, might have made DCNS’ novel 885t, $200 million Andrasta Class of "pocket submarines" external link attractive. Instead, Vietnam appears to have opted for a more widely-deployable, higher capacity 3,000t submarine from its tried and true Russia partner. They can be armed with 533mm heavy torpedoes, mines, and/or the 3M54 Klub-S family of missiles. The new submarines are the most important new Russian addition to Vietnam’s capabilities. ////

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, “Nothing better illustrates the Vietnamese desire to be a major player in the region than the country’s recent purchase of six state-of-the-art Kilo-class submarines from Russia. A Western defense expert in Hanoi tells me that the sale makes no logical sense: “There is going to be real sticker shock for the Vietnamese when they find out just how much it costs merely to maintain these subs.” More important, the expert says, the Vietnamese will have to train crews to use them—a generational undertaking. “To counter Chinese subs,” the expert says, “they would have been better off concentrating on anti-submarine warfare and littoral defense.” Clearly, the Vietnamese bought these submarines as prestige items, to say We’re serious.” [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

“The multibillion-dollar deal with Russia for the submarines includes a $200 million refurbishment of Cam Ranh Bay—one of the finest deep-water anchorages in Southeast Asia, astride the South China Sea maritime routes, and a major base of operations for the U.S. military during the American War. The Vietnamese have stated that their aim is to make Cam Ranh Bay available to foreign navies. Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, writes that an unspoken Vietnamese desire is that the Cam Ranh Bay overhaul will “strengthen defence ties with America and facilitate the US military presence in South-east Asia as a counter to China’s rising power.” Cam Ranh Bay plays perfectly into the Pentagon’s “places not bases” strategy, whereby American ships and planes can regularly visit foreign military outposts for repairs and resupply without the need for formal, politically sensitive basing arrangements.” <*>

Finland Sells Old Soviet-built Tanks to Vietnam

In January 205, the Helsingin Sanomat reported: “The Finnish Defence Forces plan to sell a fleet of old Soviet-built tanks to Vietnam. The 40-year-old tanks no longer meet the requirements of the Finnish military, and scrapping them would be costly. In addition to the T-55 and T-54 tanks, Vietnam is also interested in artillery, and parts for MI-8 helicopters. One aspect of Finland's postwar policy of neutrality was to strike a geopolitical balance in acquisitions of armaments, buying weapons from Western sources, domestic manufacturers, as well as the Soviet Union. Consequently, much of the Soviet weaponry in Finland's arsenal is compatible with the weapons systems of countries of the former socialist bloc. [Source: Helsingin Sanomat (.fi), January 28, 2005 /~/]

Dozens of T-55 tanks have been in storage at the Parola garrison in Southern Finland. The barrels of the guns are covered, as the tanks have not been used for two years. The T-55 and T-54 tanks were replaced in 2002 by a fleet of German-made Leopard 2A4s. Although each one of the obsolete tanks contains tonnes of valuable scrap iron, the costs of dealing with the asbestos insulation would probably cancel out any economic benefit. /~/

"Now they have the initiative. We are waiting for them to say what they want. Then we'll see what we can sell. For instance, we can give up the old tanks immediately. We will not sell helicopter parts as long as we still use the models", Takanen says. "No price tags have been put on anything, but the price will not be high. Dismantling a tank is so expensive, that even if someone is willing to take them for free, it will be worth it." In the 1990s Finland sold Vietnam a large consignment of spare parts for MiG fighter planes. The arms monitoring unit of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs says that there are no obstacles in principle to selling tanks to Vietnam. /~/

Unexploded Bombs and Mines in Vietnam

Millions of unexploded bombs and mine remains in Indochina, particularly along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and Quang Tri province, near the old DMZ in Vietnam, where thousands of tons of bombs, shells and chemicals were dropped by B-52s in 1972 at the end of the war. Bomb craters now serve as fish ponds. Vietnamese government figures show unexploded ordnance have killed more than 42,000 people since the war ended in 1975. Over 10,500 people have been killed in Vietnam's central provinces by left over bombs according to a report by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Vietnam's Ministry of Defence. Throughout Vietnam, 6.6 million hectares of land are lethally contaminated with unexploded bombs and land mines, according to the Defense Ministry.

The central provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, and Quang Ngai in Central Vietnam were the hardest hit by US bombs during the war. A report released last month by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Ministry of Defense listed Ha Tinh as among the six provinces most contaminated by unexploded ordnance from the Vietnam War. The report said 35 percent of the land in these provinces was still contaminated. The study found that 10,529 people have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded in the six central provinces since the war ended in 1975.

Nearly 40 years after the war's end, Vietnamese civilians are still routinely killed and maimed by leftover mines and bombs and other explosives. U.S. warplanes dropped 15 million tons of explosives on Vietnam and at least 2 million tons on Cambodia. More than 3.5 million landmines and 300,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions litter Vietnam. Hundreds of Vietnamese are killed or maimed each year in accidental explosions. Most are set off by children playing with small cluster bombs, or by adults salvaging the metal casings and explosives from the munitions. The metal is usually sold for scrap, while the explosives are used by fishermen.

AFP reported between 1975 and 2004 more than 38,000 people have been killed and more than 100,000 injured as a result of unexploded ordnance, according to Ministry of Public Security statistics published by state media. According to the US military, more than 15 million tonnes of bombs, mines, artillery shells and other munitions were used during the Vietnam War. As much as 10 percent of this is estimated to have failed to explode. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 25, 2004]

So many unexploded bombs were left behind at Khe Sanh and other nearby battlefields that local hospitals took in wounded people from these weapons at a rate of one a day through 1990s. This figure does not include the victims killed outright. Many of the victims were scrap metal dealers, who sold the high-quality-steel used to make the bombs, and farmers, whose water buffalos plowed up old bombs and shells. [Source: Malcolm Browne, New York Times]

Many of the amputees scuttling around on jury-rigged skateboards in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were maimed by mines and unexploded bombs. Lying on a wooden pallet, which sometimes serves as beds in rural at Vietnamese hospitals, Malcolm Browne of the New York Times saw one girl who had been severely wounded by a bomb. In the explosion she lost both eyes, an arm and a leg. "In agony," he wrote, “she rolled blindly from one side to another on her wretched pallet.”

Agent Orange, See Separate Article Under Health

Cluster Bombs

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors. A bomblet can kill or maim someone within 10 to 50 yards (meters). [Source: Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, February 16, 2010]

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, Cluster bombs are “one of the most stubborn, long-lasting and cruelly undiscriminating weapons of modern war.” They were scattered by American B52 bombers in the so-called “Secret War” intended to drive back communist guerrillas and block supply lines for US enemies in Vietnam. They are small, innocuous looking, and often colourful – almost as if designed to attract the attention of playful children. And like the bomblet that killed Bounma, they can lie in the ground for a generation until the chance touch of a spade or a curious hand triggers them into deadly life. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=\]

“Cluster bombs consist of an outer casing that splits open to release as many as 700 individual “bomblets” designed to explode on impact, spreading blast and deadly fragments over soldiers and armoured vehicles in a 30 metre radius. But invariably, between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of the bomblets fail to detonate. The first cluster bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe on Grimsby in 1943, and since then they have been used in more than a dozen conflicts. /=\

The group Handicap International says 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and nearly a third are children.

See Laos, Vietnam War

6.6 Million Hectares in Vietnam Still Contaminated by Bombs and Mines

Ben Stocking of AP wrote: “More than one-third of the land in six central Vietnamese provinces remains contaminated with land mines and unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War, according to a study by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Vietnam's ministry of defense. Vietnam estimates that more than 42,000 people have been killed in such accidents since 1975. The survey—the result of close collaboration between the United States and Vietnam— provides the most detailed information to date about the amount and location of unexploded ordinance littering a region that saw some of the heaviest fighting and bombardment during the war. [Source: Ben Stocking, AP, July 31 2009 /*/]

“In addition to mapping unexploded mines and ordinance, the project, which the U.S. government provided $2 million to finance, involved clearing 3,345 acres (1,354 hectares) of land in 1,361 communities across the six provinces. But the study also underlines the scope of the mine-clearing work that remains to be done. Vietnam's Ministry of Defense estimates 16.3 million acres (6.6 million hectares) are still contaminated across the country, said Thao Nguyen, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's country director. "The clearing of unexploded ordinance and land mines is far from finished," Nguyen said. /*/

“The U.S. has provided $46 million to help with mine-clearing efforts in Vietnam since 1989, the U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak The study looked in detail at victims in the provinces of Quang Tri, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Ngai, Nghe An and Ha Tinh. Thirty-four percent were hurt while scavenging for unexploded bombs to sell as scrap metal; 27 percent were farming or herding livestock; and 21 percent were playing or tampering with the bombs. The study found the most heavily contaminated provinces were Quang Binh and neighboring Quang Tri, the site of the former demilitarized zone during the war. Since the war ended, nearly 7,000 people have been killed or injured by leftover ordinance in Quang Tri and 6,000 in Quang Binh, the study found. /*/

Deaths and Injuries from Unexploded Bombs in Vietnam

In September 2004, explosives left over from the war killed eight people in two separate incidents. Five men were killed instantly and two others died later from injuries after a 105mm artillery shell exploded in the central coastal city of Qui Nhon. The men had found the shell in a former U.S. ammunition dump and tried to cut it open for scrap metal. In the other incident a man died when a mortar he was trying to cut open for scrap exploded in the Bui Thi Xuan area.

In December 2004, a man was killed and two others were seriously injured when a Vietnam War-are mortar shell they were sawing for scrap metal exploded. The shell was one of six 105 millimeter mortars they found in Cu Pao in Dak Lak Province. Also in 2004, a bomb exploded as it was being dismantled for scrap metal, killing two and seriously injuring two others in Phu Yen province.

In January 2007, DPA German Press Agency reported: “A war-era bomb exploded on a Vietnamese fishing boat, instantly killing four fishermen who were diving for decorative coral off of Cambodia, an official. The fishermen, aged 16 to 34 years old, found the bomb on the ocean floor as they were harvesting a coral bed near the Cambodian shore, about 290 kilometers from Vietnam's Phu Quoc island. They hauled the 1-kilogram bomb up to their boat, presumably to resell the scrap metal and explosives, according to said Truong Dong Hai, chief investigator of Phu Quoc district. "The bomb exploded when one of the seven fishermen onboard was using a hammer to clear away the oysters attached to the shell," Hai said Friday. "Four of the fishermen were killed right away and two others were injured, but little damage was caused to the boat," Hai said. The Vietnamese official added that the fishermen were not authorized to be plying Cambodian waters and that the survivors may be fined for illegally leaving Vietnam. [Source: DPA German Press Agency, January 12, 2007]

In August 2002, AFP reported: “One man was killed and six others injured while playing catch with a Vietnam War-era bomb in the northern Vietnamese port city of Haiphong, state media said. The victim, aged around 30, found what he thought was a tennis ball in a canal and brought it back to his house in the Kien Thuy district of the city. He and six friends began throwing the object at each other, unaware that it was an unexploded bomb until it detonated when one of them failed to catch it, the Communist Party Nhan Dan daily said. All the injured were between the ages of 25 and 30. A month before three people were killed and another critically wounded in the central province of Quang Binh after accidentally detonating a bomb in a wheat field while trying to salvage it for scrap metal. [Source: Agence France Presse, August 11, 2002]

In November 2009, AFP reported: “Four men were instantly killed when a bomb left over from the Vietnam War blew up as they were trying to open it to remove explosive material, police said Wednesday. The dead were aged between 24 and 27 and were two pairs of brothers, said Nguyen Van Dieu, a police official in southern Tay Ninh province. "They were killed on the spot. District police are investigating what sort of bomb it was. The accident area was a target of US attacks in the war," the official from Don Thuan commune told AFP of Tuesday's explosion. [Source: AFP, November 18, 2009]

In September 2009, VietNamNet reported: A police officer says four people were killed when a Vietnam War-era artillery shell they were cutting for scrap metal exploded. A couple, their 8-year-old daughter and a neighbor died immediately following the incident Monday in the central province of Phu Yen. A boy was killed and his father seriously injured when a bomb exploded near them as they dug a pond in Ha Tinh Province. The explosion threw the 15-year-old Dinh Huu Hoang five meters away. He died on the spot, according to eyewitnesses. The blast shattered the arm of father Dinh Huu Thong, 41, and he sustained several other injuries. Local authorities said the bomb had been buried in the mud and might have been dropped by US soldiers during the Vietnam War. A month earlier, four people including a couple and their 8-year-old daughter were killed by a blast in the central province of Phu Yen as they tried to remove explosive material from a war-era bomb. [Source: VietNamNet/Thanh Nien, September 10, 2009]

Children Killed and Injured by Vietnam War-Era Bombs

In 1997, a cluster bomb exploded in a schoolyard, killing seven children, wounding 37 chldren and a teacher. In 1998, a 13-year-old boy dug up a grenade that been exposed by rain erosion. He picked it up and threw it, but not very far. Minutes later villagers took him to clinic with a plastic bowl over his abdomen to keep his guts from spilling out.

In December 2012, Associated Press reported: A mortar shell left from the Vietnam War has exploded in a southern village, killing four children and seriously injuring five other people. Hieu Nghia village official Le Van Giang says three children aged 4 to 11 died at the scene and a 6-year-old boy died at the hospital. The blast seriously injured two other children and three men. Giang said the shell exploded when the children who found the shell from bamboo brush were playing with it. A villager found the shell five years ago when dredging a canal. The village in Vinh Long province was a communist stronghold during the war. [Source: Associated Press, December Dec 2, 2012]

In April 2013, Global Post reported: “Two Vietnamese boys, aged 11, were killed and six children injured while they played with an old mortar shell they found on their way to school. Village official Nguyen Sy Thong said the shell was found in an area of central Vietnam which was used as an American base during the Vietnam War, AP reported. After the war ended in 1975, it was converted to a military firing range. Thong said the boys found the old shell as they walked to school in the central highland province of Dak Nong, AP reported. They picked it up and were playing with it when it exploded. Two boys died at hospital and their six classmates remain in a serious condition. There was a similar accident in December when a mortar shell, believed left from the Vietnam War, exploded in a south Vietnam village. Four children, aged four to 11, were killed and five others seriously injured, the Phuket Gazette reportedat the time. [Source: Global Post, April 17, 2013]

In December 2004, AFP reported: “Five Vietnamese schoolboys were killed when a US-made explosive left over from the Vietnam War detonated, police said. The accident happened when the five boys, aged between nine and 17, tried to set fire to an American projectile they had discovered in a forest in the central province of Binh Thuan. All five died immediately on the spot, a local policeman told AFP. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 25, 2004]

Land Mines in Vietnam

There are an estimated 3.5 million mines in Vietnam (2002). In 2003 Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: Nearly three decades after the Vietnam War ended, land mines kill and maim farmers and other Vietnamese almost weekly, and de-mining efforts are focusing on the wrong areas, according to the first comprehensive postwar study. The study, funded by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, is the first look at the ongoing casualties after the war. No national studies on land mines and unexploded ordnance have ever been done. The study, conducted over a three-week period in August 2002, takes an in-depth look at one district in central Quang Tri province, the site of the former demilitarized zone. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, November 26, 2003 ~+~]

“Especially hard-hit was Trieu Phong, a rural, rice-farming community where many villagers are missing one or more limbs. Some 1,270 people have been killed or injured in the district since 1975. Nearly half the victims were aged 16 to 30, and 80 percent were men, the study found. Researchers found 46 percent of the accidents in Trieu Phong occurred among farmers working the fields -- an indication de-mining efforts, mainly targeting former U.S. bases, are not concentrated where they would have the greatest impact. ~+~

''The real problem up to now that's been causing death and injuries has not been the old military bases, but it's debris and ordnance in the communities and around the house and in the fields,'' said Chuck Searcy, country representative for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which funded the study through a partnership with Quang Tri provincial officials. The study also found that 8 percent of all incidents involved scavengers searching for ordnance to sell for scrap metal. Phan Xuan Quang, 32, said he's lost many friends that way, but he must accept the risk. As a farmer, he makes only $64 a year. ''We don't have enough land to grow rice or trees,'' said Quang, who earns $6.50 to $13 for each bomb he digs up. ''I know it is dangerous. [But] there's nothing I can do to earn extra money to support my family.'' ~+~

“Farmers Le Tat Ha, 59, and his son, Toan, 31, from Trieu Thuong village, are examples of the impact of the leftover explosives. Ha accidentally hit a bomb with a hoe while farming in June 1975. The explosion left shrapnel embedded in his chest, arms and legs. ''I still feel pain now, especially when the weather changes,'' he said. His son set off another explosion more than a decade later while tilling the fields as a teenager. The fingers on his left hand were blown off. The Vietnamese military conducted sweeps of the area for a decade after the war ended, but efforts only focused on removing ordnance found above ground. ~+~

For More on Mines See Cambodia.

Terrorism in Vietnam

Terrorism: Following al Qaeda’s attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, Vietnam expressed sympathy for the victims and qualified support for the war on terrorism. Vietnam urged that any steps taken against terrorists be consistent with international cooperation within the bounds of the United Nations Charter, target the culprits, and avoid larger-scale warfare. In April 2004, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) issued a draft decree to combat money laundering as a source of terrorist financing. This move followed pressure from the United States, which denied requests by the Vietcombank and the Vietnam Bank for Investment and Development to set up representative offices on the grounds that they could be used to finance international terrorism. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Internal Threat: The government seeks to prevent the expression of views critical of the government and non-sanctioned religious worship. When some dissidents sought to evade official media controls by using the Internet to disseminate their views, the government responded by introducing Internet restrictions. Although dissident activity generates substantial press commentary, it does not pose a threat to the regime’s stability. The Montagnard ethnic minority represents a special case. This group is seeking a return of its ancestral lands in the Central Highlands. The Montagnards, who traditionally have opposed the communist government, receive support from overseas Vietnamese, particularly the United States-based Montagnard Foundation. After a violent clash with demonstrators in April 2004, the government boosted its security presence in the region. *

There have been several reports of letter and parcel bombs being used to settle disputes in Vietnam. In November 2003, three people were killed when a parcel bomb exploded in Hanoi

Three men connected with a free Vietnam movement were arrested in Bangkok for planting explosives at the Vietnam embassy there in June 2001. The explosive devises, made with urea and diesel fuel, lacked detonators which indicated they were likely to be used as a treat.

In 1987, Hoang Co Minh— was the first chairman of the Viet Tân— attempted to infiltrate a platoon of commandos into Vietnam from Laos. The entire unit—including Hoang Cp Minh— was reportedly wiped out.

Terrorism in the Vietnam War, See Vietnam War

Vietnam’s President Warns of "Hostile Forces"

Before the seizure Vietnam’s president warns against "sabotage" from hostile forces. Associated Press reported: "Exposing sensitivity over political stability, Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong has warned against the increasing threat of "sabotage" from hostile forces hoping to undermine the Communist government."The hostile forces have not abandoned their attempt to sabotage our revolution," he said. Luong said that even as Vietnam continues its policy of expanding economic and political ties with the rest of the world, new challenges emerge in the form of "hostile forces." The government often uses the term "hostile forces" to refer to anyone or anything that threatens the Communist leadership, including overseas Vietnamese, many of them exiles who remain stridently opposed to the Hanoi government. [Source: Associated Press, December 22, 2000 :::]

"The hostile forces will have an opportunity to exercise 'peaceful evolution,' penetrate our internal ranks to carry out sabotage activities and influence internal transformation," Luong said. Peaceful evolution is the word Hanoi uses to describe the process of nonviolently changing Vietnam's communist government through economic and cultural influence. Police forces have already uncovered many subversive attempts at peaceful evolution by the hostile forces, Luong said. He also noted that these outside forces are using "sophisticated, wicked plots and modern machinery and technological equipment to carry out sabotage activities against our country." Earlier this year, state-run media reported that overseas Vietnamese groups were still plotting the violent overthrow of communist rule in Vietnam despite the arrest of more than 40 "reactionaries" in the past 18 months. No details were given. "We must be active in dissolving reactionary groups, neutralizing the enemy's organizations from outside, preventing collaboration between the forces outside and inside, and not allow them to carry out sabotage activities," he said. :::

Insurgencies Against the Vietnamese Government

The Government of Free Vietnam is an exile organization headquartered in a 10,000-square-foot office in Southern Caifornia. It wants to overthrown the leadership in Hanoi and says it has secret bases in Vietnam. In the United States it hosts fund-raising gatherings and runs a shortwave anti-Communist radio station.

American-Vietnamese based in camps in Cambodia are reportedly plotting to take over the Vietnamese government. The groups are armed and have 200 members. Washington and Phnom Penh or not support the groups.

Vietnamese-American Detained as a Terrorist While on Vacation with Family

Linda Goldston wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, “Tien Jane Dobui looked forward to relaxation and family reunions when she and her husband returned to their native Vietnam in July 2006. Nine-year-old Nien Dobui, their youngest child, traveled with them. Now Dobui and her three children are spending night and day trying to get Cong Thanh Do home. Dobui has not seen her husband since Aug. 14, when she says he was detained by officials in Vietnam. According to the family, the 47-year-old engineer from San Jose has been accused of conspiring to bomb the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. He has not been charged but has been in the custody of Vietnamese officials for the past two weeks, his family said. [Source: Linda Goldston, San Jose Mercury News, September 5, 2006 /*/]

“A new urgency to the situation occurred, they said, when Do started a hunger strike that would only end "either in his freedom or his death.'' Do announced that he is a member of the People's Democratic Party of Vietnam and secretly has worked as a human rights activist for the past several years. He did not inform his family of his activism because he wanted to protect them, they said. During a 45-minute meeting with consular officials, with six Vietnamese officials in the room, "my father identified himself as a member of an underground political party, the People's Democratic Party of Vietnam,'' Bien Dobui said. "It is a pacifist, political group hoping to change Vietnam to a pluralistic political system.'' When his activism was relayed to the family in San Jose in a phone call from consular officials, "I was stunned,'' his wife said. "I couldn't talk anymore and handed the phone to my daughter.'' /*/

“Tien Dobui said she and her husband and young son were staying with relatives in Phan Thiet, on the coast of central Vietnam, when six men came to the house at 6:20 a.m. Aug. 14. Two were in police uniforms and four were in regular clothes, she said. "They took out a citation book and said they want my husband to come to the police station,'' she said. "They said he had been accused by somebody'' -- whom none of the family recognized -- of being a terrorist. Dobui said her husband was asked to sign the citation, but he refused. She said they allowed him to change into street clothes before he was taken away. She was asked to appear two hours later at the local police station. Do was taken to a different location. "They said they were officers with the Vietnamese Immigration Administration,'' Tien Dobui said. /*/

“When she appeared at the local police station at 8 a.m., she was asked numerous questions about her husband and her family. About 10 a.m., while she was still being questioned, she said she was allowed to accept a cell phone call from her husband. "He told me he was on his way to Saigon with them,'' she said. "They accused my husband of being involved with a group that planned to bomb the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.'' Do had been in China on business before he joined his wife and son in Vietnam, she said. The family immediately called U.S. officials in Vietnam but said it took two weeks before even the consular's officials were allowed to meet with Do. Dobui and her son, Nien, last saw Do on Aug. 14. /*/

“Dobui finally returned home Aug. 25, upset and scared. She kept thinking her husband would be released at any moment. She arranged for a nephew to fly Nien home Aug. 22. "During the two weeks, nobody heard anything from him,'' she said. Dobui said she spent the two weeks at her sister's house in Vietnam, "and they cut the phone service and Internet service'' to the home. "Dissent is illegal in Vietnam, but he is a U.S. citizen,'' said the couple's 24-year-old son, Vien. "My father denies any involvement in groups that are violent,'' daughter Bien said. "The People's Democratic Party of Vietnam is made up of intellectuals who work under aliases on Internet sites,'' writing papers. /*/

“Vien Dobui said his father is determined "to prove his innocence. He is committed to finding a multi-party political system for Vietnam. He's a democratic human rights activist.'' While her older son and daughter make calls on Do's behalf, Tien Dobui is still trying to make sense of how she left on a vacation with her husband and young son -- and had to come home without Do. "We've been married for 25 years,'' she said. "It's a nightmare, since the moment they took him away.'' /*/

Vietnam Deports U.S. Activist Held for 9 Months

In January 2011, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer of Associated Press wrote: “A Vietnamese-American accused of conspiring to overthrow Vietnam's communist government smiled broadly as he reunited with his family after he was deported back to the United States. Nguyen Quoc Quan, had been detained for nine months. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Quan had "confessed to his crime" and asked for leniency to be reunited with his family.[Source: Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, AP, January 31, 2011 /~/]

“Quan, an American citizen, was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City's airport in April after arriving on a flight from the United States, where he has lived since fleeing Vietnam by boat as a young man. The 60-year-old is a leading member of Viet Tan, a nonviolent pro-democracy group that Vietnamese authorities have labeled a terrorist organization. He was detained in 2007 in Vietnam for six months, also on charges relating to his pro-democracy activities, before being deported. /~/

“Authorities initially accused Quan of terrorism, but he was later charged with subversion against the state, which carries penalties ranging from 12 years in prison to death. Earlier this month, 14 Vietnamese activists associated with Viet Tan were sentenced to up to 13 years in jail. Quan's supporters didn't deny that he had come to Vietnam from his home in California to teach non-violent resistance to the Communist government. His lawyer and family members said earlier this month that his trial on charges of subversion was imminent, but then said it had been postponed for unknown reasons. /~/

“According to a copy of the indictment obtained by The Associated Press, Quan met with fellow Vietnamese activists in Thailand and Malaysia between 2009 and 2010 and discussed Internet security and nonviolent resistance. The indictment said he traveled to Vietnam under a passport issued under the name of Richard Nguyen in 2011, when he recruited four other members of Viet Tan. /~/

Vietnamese-American Hijacks Planes to Drop Leaflets on Vietnam

Associated Press reported from Rayong: “A Vietnamese-American pilot was sentenced Thursday to seven years and four months in jail for hijacking a small plane in Thailand and flying illegally over Vietnam to scatter anti-communist leaflets. Ly Tong, a former bomber pilot in South Vietnam's air force who has staged similar stunts, was originally sentenced to 11 years, but Judge Pairath Noonpradej of the Rayong Provincial Court reduced the punishment to reward his cooperation in the trial. [Source: The Associated Press, December 26, 2003 ////]

“Ly Tong was arrested in November 2000 after he returned from his audacious mission to drop the leaflets over Ho Chi Minh City, just before then-President Bill Clinton's visit to Vietnam. He claimed during his trial that he did not hijack the plane but bribed the pilot with $10,000 to turn over control of the plane and help him dump the leaflets. The time Ly Tong spent in detention since Nov. 17, 2000, will be deducted from his jail term, which means he will serve only about four years, said the prosecutor, Surasak Pransilp. Ly Tong, 55, said he will not appeal but will apply for transfer to a U.S. jail to serve the remainder of his sentence under an agreement between the United States and Thailand. ////

''I am frustrated but I don't care anymore. All I needed was a verdict so I can get a transfer to U.S.A.,'' Ly Tong told reporters. Ly Tong, branded by Vietnam's government as a ''dangerous international terrorist,'' has many admirers among Vietnamese who fled communist rule in their country. During the final days of the Vietnam War, Ly was captured by North Vietnamese troops after his plane was shot down. He escaped a prison camp in 1980 and was granted asylum in the United States. ////

“In 1992, he wrested control of a Vietnam Airlines jetliner that took off from Bangkok, Thailand, and forced the crew to fly him over Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Ly dumped 50,000 leaflets before jumping out a cockpit window and parachuting into the city. He was arrested and was sentenced in 1993 to 20 years in prison. After serving six years, he was granted amnesty and freed. He returned to the United States. In January 2000, he rented a plane in Miami and flew over Havana, showering Cuba's capital with leaflets calling for the ouster of President Fidel Castro. ////

Removing Bomb-Grade Nuclear Material in Vietnam

Reporting from Dalat, Jill Dougherty of CNN wrote: “Dalat Nuclear Research Institute stands on a mountaintop in Vietnam's southern highlands. The nuclear reactor is not what most Vietnamese think of when they think of Dalat. The town, nestled in pine woods, is Vietnam's favorite honeymoon spot. The institute is not a romantic place. Located in a cylindrical, concrete building, it contains a 500-kilowatt, pool-type reactor that had only recently been loaded with Soviet WWR-M2 fuel assemblies. [Source: Jill Dougherty, CNN, October 16, 2007 /=/]

“Built in 1963 with U.S. help, it originally contained highly enriched uranium from the United States. In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, the reactor was closed, then reconstructed by the Soviet Union. In 1983, it reopened, this time using Soviet highly enriched uranium -- a Cold War marriage made in heaven. The institute created medical isotopes and carried out research, but few people if any, in those days thought about the possibility that terrorists might take an interest in the uranium. /=/

“As I was soon to see for myself, fresh, highly enriched uranium (HEU) is easy to smuggle. When clad with aluminum, its radiation is detectable only by specialized sensors. Approximately 25 kilograms are all that is needed to make a crude nuclear device. The HEU fuel rods have been removed from the reactor and are stored in a large metal case. A Vietnamese scientist fumbles with the keys, then opens the top and begins handing the rods to the Russian experts, who lay them out on a table. /=/

“The experts are wearing dosimeters to measure the radiation, but only one person wears gloves -- simple, rough cotton ones. They hand me a fuel rod and I hold it in my bare hands. Now I understand just how easy it would be for a terrorist to disguise the fact that he or she was carrying highly enriched uranium. The fuel rod looks for all the world like an aluminum leg to a small table. /=/

“By complying with the U.S./Russian effort to remove vulnerable nuclear materials, Vietnam assures it will get international support for its quest to build nuclear power plants to generate energy. Both U.S. and Russian companies are eyeing Vietnam as a potential market. The Russians wrap the fuel rods in plastic, then insert them into two large, steel cylinders. The IAEA expert seals them. If they're tampered with, it will be obvious. /=/

“The next day, a flatbed military truck backs into the reactor room. A crane lifts the cylinders and gently lays them on the truck's wooden bed as a Vietnamese military officer, in olive drab, looks on. The final and most vulnerable phase of the operation begins. The truck drives through the reactor gates and joins a convoy guarded by armed soldiers. Sirens blaring, we set out in a slow procession, weaving down the mountain road, traffic police on motorcycles waving riders on motor scooters out of the way. /=/

“At Dalat's airport, the truck wheels onto the tarmac and stops near a Vietnamese military helicopter. A forklift lowers the cylinders to the ground and six soldiers heave them in slings to the helicopter. From there, they are flown to the military base at Ho Chi Minh City airport, where they are put onto a Russian transport plane. We climb the stairs into the belly of the Ilyushin 76 and see the two baby-blue cylinders filled with highly enriched uranium, nestled side by side. At 2 p.m., right on schedule, the engines roar and the plane lumbers down the runway, off to its ultimate destination in the Ural Mountains. There, the HEU will be blended into a form that cannot be used for bomb-making. /=/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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