Vietnamese police detained at least 10 people on Friday marking the anniversary of a 1979 border war with China, holding them briefly in custody before releasing them at the end of the day, sources say.
Most were picked up in Saigon, where dozens went in the morning to gather at a statue of Tran Hung Dao, a thirteenth-century Vietnamese military commander who had repelled Mongol invasions under Kublai Khan.
They were quickly blocked by police and security forces on their arrival, though, a participant told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Just before 9:00 there were police everywhere, and I knew there would be a crackdown,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A short distance from the statue, the poet Phan Dac Lu told me that the police were going to arrest people, but I told him that I would still go ahead, and as soon as we got there the police rushed us and took both of us away.”
“They dragged us to their vehicle,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the capital Hanoi, about 100 people had gathered at a statue of Ly Thai To, an early Vietnamese emperor, to pay tribute to Vietnamese citizens who had died in the three-week war launched by China on Feb. 17, 1979.
The ceremony was closely watched by uniformed and plainclothes police, one source said, adding that “in general, the ceremony took place as expected.”
“However, after the ceremony, a few people were arrested,” he said. “One was the blogger Nguyen Lan Thang.”
All those detained were released by the end of the day, sources said.
Blocked at cemetery
Three days before, police in Vietnam’s border city of Lang Son blocked a group of about 10 activists who had tried to enter a cemetery to pay tribute to Vietnamese killed in the war, sources said.
“As soon as we got there, a group of 30 plainclothes police approached and surrounded us. Half of them were women,” an activist named To Oanh told RFA.
“We showed them our IDs so that they would let us in to light incense for the martyrs, but they closed the gate, telling us we had to ask permission from local authorities before coming in.”
“They didn’t let us take photos, either,” Oanh said.
Also speaking to RFA, sources pointed to sporadic coverage in state-controlled media of the war’s anniversary, usually a sensitive subject in the often tense relationship between China and Vietnam.
“The Central Committee for Propaganda must have ordered this,” freelance journalist Vo Van Tao said, speaking from Saigon.
“For example, on this day or that day, they may say that newspapers A or B can carry some reports, but that newspapers C and D cannot.”
“In general, they maintain some control over this, but it is not the same every year.”
“It depends on the relationship between the two countries,” he said.
For now, school books in Vietnam contain little information about the 1979 war, “so readers don’t learn much about it,” textbook author Vu Duong Ninh told RFA, adding that this situation may change with the release of new books next year.
“We talk about our wars against the French and the Americans, and this doesn’t affect our relationships with those countries,” Ninh said.
“We need to let our students know about this,” he said.
Vietnam and China, both opaque communist governments with media and historians tightly controlled by ruling communist parties, have never published precise official death tolls from the border war.
But estimates leaked by China’s dissidents put Chinese soldiers killed at around 7,000, while Vietnam is estimated by some Western sources to have lost about twice as many troops. Vietnam has claimed the Chinese invasion caused some 10,000 civilian deaths.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.