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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Reform call by ex-Vietnamese PM
By Giang Nguyen and Xuan Hong
BBC Vietnamese service

The former prime minister of Vietnam, Vo Van Kiet, has urged the Communist Party's leaders to talk to political dissidents.

Vo Van Kiet
Vo Van Kiet wants overseas Vietnamese to vote in upcoming elections

In a rare interview with the BBC Vietnamese Service, 86-year old Kiet, whose first wife and four children were killed during the Vietnam War, also called for national reconciliation.

His views seem to be at odds with the government's tough policies toward a number of dissidents in recent weeks.

Just a few weeks before Mr Kiet spoke to a BBC Vietnamese reporter in Ho Chi Minh City, a Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Van Ly, was sentenced to eight years in jail.

Two other dissident lawyers are expecting to face trial on 11 May for "anti-government activities".

Most of the dissidents have been advocating non-violent changes to Vietnam's mono-party system.

Mr Kiet, a former Politburo member, said the authorities must not avoid "talking to those who have a different view" on Vietnamese politics, and he added that "the dialogue should be honest".

He warned the government "not to execute administrative measures" in its dealings with the dissidents.

Push for reform

Once a Viet Cong leader in South Vietnam, Mr Kiet was considered the chief architect of the Vietnamese market reforms called Doi Moi in the late 1980s.

The success of Doi Moi, with economic growth of 8-9% annually since the 1990s, helped to make Vietnam a member of the World Trade Organization early this year.

VO VAN KIET
Vo Van Kiet [archive photo from 1991]
Prime Minister: 1991 - 1997
Seen as a reformer, helped create Doi Moi
Member of Indochinese Communist Party: 1939
Took part in Cochinchina Insurrection: 1940
In Viet-Cong Guerrilla leadership in Saigon's areas before 1975
Party chief of Ho Chi Minh City Committee: 1976

It also led to political challenges for the ruling party.

Many war veterans, intellectuals and professionals have called on the party to reform its own apparatus to tackle corruption and abuse of power for economic benefits.

But the reforms have also strengthened the so-called "reformist faction", widely identified with Mr Kiet and party politicians from the South, including President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

So Mr Kiet's warning about the current leadership's handling of dissidents should not fall on deaf ears.

He even seemed to encourage people to push reform still further, by recognising that Vietnam's "democratisation has made progress, with people now being able to strongly criticise government officials".

He also questioned an orthodoxy that the only true patriots are the Communist Party's members.

"There are a hundred ways of being a patriot. The motherland of Vietnam doesn't belong to one person, one party or one group only," he said.

In a conciliatory tone he recognised the party made "serious mistakes" in the south after 1975, when massive repression by former South Vietnamese government officials and army officers forced 100,000 people to flee the country as "boat people".

Less progressive

Turning to the overseas Vietnamese and their children in the US, Australia and Europe, Mr Kiet said he would welcome them to take part in the parliamentary elections, planned for 20 May.

However, the current leaders, including Mr Kiet's proteges, seem to hold a less progressive view towards Vietnamese politics and overseas Vietnamese.

A female dissident, Ms Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, was recently arrested for contacting some Vietnamese human rights organisations in the US, which are accused by Hanoi of "subversive activities".

And as the vice-chairman of parliament, Nguyen Van Yeu, told the press recently, the elections later this month are not about "competing for seats", adding that the National Assembly "must always follow the party's leadership".


SEE ALSO
Vietnam priest jailed for dissent
30 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Testing Vietnam's religious resolve
15 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Vietnam detains rights lawyers
05 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Vietnam's WTO membership begins
11 Jan 07 |  Business
Country profile: Vietnam
25 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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