Vietnam asks China to free boat, fishermen
Sat, Jun 27, 2009

HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam has asked China to release a fishing boat and 12 sailors detained about one week ago while fishing in waters around the Paracel archipelago.

The boat was one of three Vietnamese fishing vessels captured on June 21 in the area, foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said late Friday.

"This act of the Chinese side is a clear violation of Vietnam's sovereignty and sovereign rights in the Eastern Sea," he said, using Vietnam's term for the South China Sea.

Vietnam's foreign ministry announced in early June that China had ordered a fishing ban in some areas of the South China Sea "including those under Vietnam's sovereignty".

A long-standing dispute between the two countries over ownership of the Paracels and a more southerly archipelago, the Spratleys, has recently escalated.

Fishermen are caught in the middle.

Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note last Monday to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, asking for the three boats and 37 fishermen to be released, Dung said.

Two of them returned home on Thursday with 25 fishermen. Dung said Vietnam was asking China to return the other boat "and not to conduct any further acts to prevent the normal activities of Vietnamese fishermen in the waters under Vietnam's sovereignty."

Fishermen interviewed by AFP in central Vietnam last week said they have seen an increasing number of armed Chinese patrol ships over the past two months in disputed waters around the Paracel archipelago, and near China's Hainan Island.

The fishermen say they try to avoid the controversial areas but China's stepped-up enforcement has put their incomes at risk. They allege some of their colleagues have been detained on Hainan or had their nets and fish seized.

Sailors claim thousands of dollars in fines have to be paid to secure a crew's freedom.

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