WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2004�Two of Vietnam�s leading dissidents have lashed out at former South Vietnamese vice president Nguyen Cao Ky for making a reconciliation visit home for the first time in three decades, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

Prominent Vietnamese dissidents Hoang Minh Chinh and Nguyen Thanh Giang, both jailed in the 1990s for their pro-democracy views, separately criticized Ky for his comments in support of Hanoi's policy of pursuing economic development while maintaining tight control over dissent.

�Social reforms and political reforms must always come together,� Giang, a geologist and author of several articles critical of the Communist Party, told RFA's Vietnamese service. �Nguyen Cao Ky said that the priority is to build the economy, to have a middle class in the country and later on think about political reforms. This is wrong, and it is unacceptable.�

Giang, who is currently under house arrest, said Vietnam was a country rich in resources, with smart and hard-working people. �But Vietnam is behind [other countries] because the government�s economic and political policies and positions are all wrong�Vietnam lacks freedom and democracy. Political reform is the key for development and stability in Vietnam,� he said.

Chinh, who at 84 is a veteran critic of the Vietnamese government, also lashed out at Ky, whose trip home was aimed at reconciliation, accusing him of �selling out his conscience... his comrades and the Vietnamese people.�

�I urge Mr. Nguyen Cao Ky to face the reality of Vietnam today, meet people, talk to poor people and find out whether or not they support what he has said,� Chinh said.

Ky, 73, returned to Vietnam on Jan. 14 for the first time in 29 years, saying he wanted to put the past behind him. He escaped his native country in the closing days of the Vietnam War, which killed three million Vietnamese and more than 50,000 Americans. He will remain in Vietnam for several weeks, for the lunar new year holiday.

A former fighter pilot, Ky became prime minister in 1965 and served as vice-president from 1967-71. He now lives in southern California. Before his departure, Ky told RFA that Vietnamese ambassador to France Nguyen Dinh Bin had proposed the homecoming trip in July 2003.

�Bin told me that now is the time to put the past behind us, to not make an issue of the past, and bring Vietnam together for the future,� Ky said in an interview. �And I answered�let�s put the past behind us and bring the country together. And I am ready to accept that. So I will go home and visit my homeland.�

�Some overseas people, and even some people in Vietnam are against my going home and I don�t know why,� Ky said, referring to anger among some Vietnamese that his visit would signal acquiescence to the Communist leadership in Hanoi.

�I know there are people who agree with me and those who oppose my decision, and I just have to accept that. But I still want to go because I am thinking for the people. I don�t care about this party or that party, I just care about the country.�

�The war ended 30 years ago, but it still divides us into two camps. So I want to put aside the past hatred, and just sit together and talk to one another face to face. And I believe if everybody loves the country and loves its people, we will sit together as one,� he said.

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.#####


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