WASHINGTON, Aug 13, 2003--The reigning Miss Vietnam has returned home safely after going missing for a week, in what relatives described as a likely kidnapping by a well-connected, jealous boyfriend, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. But the circumstances surrounding her disappearance and return remain murky.
"She showed up yesterday unscathed," a Haiphong City police officer said Wednesday. Police in the northern Vietnamese city also said Pham Thi Mai Phuong, 18, had left home following a dispute with her parents.
Mai Phuong's father, Pham Thanh Hung, described his daughter as quiet and tired on her return. "She didn't say anything because she was very tired. But she's well and normal," he said in an interview with RFA's Vietnamese service. He also denied his wife's claim on Tuesday that the family home had been surrounded by unidentified men threatening to harm them. "No, no, no, maybe my wife was afraid of something, maybe she missed our daughter very much," he said, stammering while he spoke. "Nothing, nothing happened."
But relatives told RFA in interviews on Monday that Phoung had vanished after school last Tuesday, and several witnesses claimed to have seen unidentified men bundling her into a van. The sources alleged that she had likely been kidnapped by her friend Nguyen Binh Khanh, a police officer, who had threatened to kill her and himself if she moved abroad to study.
Nguyen Binh Khanh is the son of Haiphong's police chief, Nguyen Binh Doan. Neither father nor son could be reached to comment.
Mai Phoung's family notified Haiphong police about her disappearance on August 7. Four days later, however, police officers interviewed by phone denied any knowledge of any missing persons report. A police spokesman said Khanh was on leave from the police department.
"I hope the media would understand the truth about me," the state-run Tin Tuc daily newspaper quoted Mai Phuong as saying in a statement. "I was appalled by the news about my being kidnapped. I just wanted to travel with my friends to relax after tension between me and my family."
Another Vietnamese newspaper, Tuoi Tre, reported that Mai Phoung had experienced problems with her parents because they wanted her to go to school in England and she wanted to remain in Vietnam.
Asked if Mai Phuong would still study in Britain, her father replied: "I don't know yet, let her rest a little while... I cannot talk to her right now, but I think everything will go as before, nothing has changed."
However, speaking with RFA yesterday, Luton University spokesman Tim Boatswain said Mai Phoung was excited about attending university in Britain when he spoke with her last month. And just four days before she disappeared, the VNExpress newspaper quoted Mai Phoung as saying, "My top dream is to attend a university, so the news on admission to a university in United Kingdom is so unexpected and makes me very happy."
Mai Phoung's mother says her daughter was supposed to go to Hanoi by August 12 in order to get her visa to travel to England next month. She did not return home until it was too late to make the trip.
However, Boatswain says the university will make whatever extensions are needed to ensure that Mai Phoung can still attend school next month.
Meanwhile, Haiphong police remain silent on the whereabouts of Nguyen Binh Khanh during the week Mai Phoung was gone.
RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. ###