O.C. lawmaker: Hanoi ‘goons’ accosted group

April 7, 2007

Rep. Loretta Sanchez says she saw women who were trying to meet with her stopped by Vietnamese soldiers.

The Orange County Register

Rep. Loretta Sanchez said Thursday that she witnessed firsthand what happens to dissidents in Vietnam when a group of women who were trying to meet with her at the American ambassador’s residence in Hanoi were roughed up by Vietnamese soldiers.

“We still don’t know where some of them are, if they got home,” Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, said in an interview from her hotel room. “There were about 15 goons roughing them up.”

Sanchez said Ambassador Michael Marine, who had invited the women to tea at his home, tried to intercede but finally advised the women to go home because he feared for their safety.

Sanchez, who has been outspoken about human rights in Vietnam, said she believes this will be the last time the Vietnamese government will let her into the country.

“They’ll never give me another visa,” said Sanchez, who planned to spend only two days in the country. “But if they want just to think they’re an open country, that they’re changing, if they have nothing to hide, why not let us come in?”

Sanchez arrived in Hanoi just three hours before the scheduled tea with the Vietnamese women, many of whose husbands or other relatives she said have been jailed for their political activity.

“We started getting information that they were putting roadblocks on a lot of the roads to these women’s houses,” Sanchez said. “They sent soldiers to these women’s homes. They took some of them down to the police station for interrogation. Two got arrested. Two made it through and came to the ambassador’s house.”

Sanchez said she arrived at Marine’s residence just as the two women did and saw the soldiers physically blocking their way from entering Marine’s home.

“At one point (Marine) was physically pulling these guys off of the women. He said, ‘These are women. You don’t treat women like this.’ ”

Sanchez is in Vietnam as part of a trip with several other members of Congress. Friday, he said, the delegation will be meeting with the Vietnamese foreign minister and members of the national assembly.

She said the ambassador told her what happened at his residence “is our one and only talking point.”

One of the women trying to meet with Sanchez and the ambassador, Sanchez said, was the mother of Le Thi Cong Nhan, who at 27 is the youngest dissident to have been jailed. Sanchez said Nhan is the spokeswoman for the Vietnamese Progression Party and was jailed for her political activity.

Sanchez said that she knows that the Vietnam she is describing is not the country that Americans see when they go there as tourists.

“The tourists don’t get to see the day-to-day problems that exist here,” Sanchez said. That’s why she has continued to try to visit the country, “to bring attention to the fact that this government still continues to deny people basic human rights.”

Sanchez said that while she was at Marine’s residence, her congressional colleagues were touring the city and found out about what happened only when they met for dinner.

“I was educating them about the very basics,” Sanchez said. She said she believes the government jammed the cell phone she received when she arrived there and she’s had to switch phones several times. The congresswoman also believes the Vietnamese government is monitoring her calls.

She is leaving Vietnam on Friday, and when asked what she would be doing after the meeting with government officials there, she said: “I have some other things to do that I can’t talk about because people are listening.”

Sanchez had planned to bring Khoi Ta, her Vietnamese political director, with her on the trip, she said, but despite a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, asking the Vietnamese government to give him a visa, it was denied.

After she leaves Vietnam, Sanchez said, she’ll be spending Easter with U.S. troops in Kuwait before returning to California next week.

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