Vietnam releases four Cambodian officials accused of piracy

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Friday August 25, 2006

Hanoi- Vietnam has released four Cambodian Sea Border Patrol officials arrested in disputed waters and accused of piracy, the Vietnamese coast guard said Friday. The four Cambodians were released late Thursday night on orders from the central Vietnam government, after confirming they were members of Cambodia's border patrol.

But a Vietnamese official said the incident at sea on Thursday raises new questions about a series of pirate attacks on Vietnamese fishing boats.

"I think that these Cambodian coast guards were the ones thought to have been pirates who raided many Vietnamese fishing vessels before," said Nguyen Kim Hong, deputy commander of Vietnam's Southern Regional Coast Guard.

Cambodian government officials would not comment on the diplomatic incident Thursday morning, which happened 150 kilometres south of the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville and 130 kilometres south-southwest of the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc.

Four Vietnamese fishing boats radioed Vietnamese authorities for help at about 8 a.m. Thursday, saying they had been boarded by Cambodian pirates and were in the process of having their boats redirected to Cambodia.

According to Hong, as the two Vietnamese patrol arrived on the scene, a speedboat pulled up to three of the fishing boats and collected Cambodian men who had boarded them.

"When we arrived, their speed boat had escaped, taking away a radio system and a compass," Hong said. "There were four Cambodian men aboard one of the boats and they had weapons."

After an hour-long standoff, Vietnam's coast guard boarded the fishing vessel and arrested the Cambodians, taking them back to Phu Quoc island.

The four men, all in their 30s, were released the same day after it turned out they are all Cambodian border patrol officers.

Some 40 Vietnamese fishing boats have reported being attacked by pirates off southern Vietnam, often in waters also claimed by Cambodia. The neighbouring countries do not have an agreement on sea borders.

Cambodian officials contacted Friday would not comment openly, though one Sihanoukville customs official said that the problem had been resolved.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur