Swallowed by the sea 

 

 A rest stop that will soon be submerged by the sea in Ca Mau Province

As sea levels rise the world over, Vietnam’s own Amazon is threatened by severe erosion and submersion.

Ca Mau Cape in the southernmost province of Ca Mau is blessed with a unique submerged ecosystem said to resemble the estuaries of the Amazon River in South America.

The cape’s biosphere reserve, an area of 371,506 hectares at Vietnam’s southernmost tip, was granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 2009.

In recent years, erosion has increased alarmingly in the cape. “If we compare Ca Mau Cape’s map now to 10 years ago, we see a lot of changes,” an official of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development told Thanh Nien.

Since the cape was declared an ecological tourism area in 2001, provincial authorities began building dikes in the area. However, the wood and concrete barriers are no match for fierce erosion; sea water continually eats away the embankments leaving skinny stakes standing alone in the sea. Some 10 meters off the shore, a line of concrete stakes stand in a feeble challenge to the seas.

While taking this Thanh Nien reporter to the farthest points on Ca Mau Cape, tour guide Duong Van Thang pointed to remnants of a road and rest stops for tourists going from east to west on Ca Mau Cape.

The tour guide said authorities built another road last year in preparation for Ca Mau Cape Tourism Week, but it was eroded by the sea three months ago.

“We belong to the sea, after all,” he said.

Ta Huynh Vinh Truong, director of Ca Mau Cape Cultural Park, said tides have risen dramatically in the last two years, speeding the rate of erosion.

Tien however, blamed humans.

Tien said sand mining for the construction of resorts and destruction of seaside mangrove forests which protect land against erosion, are the main reasons for the disaster. He also said the dikes built by authorities were not strong enough to fight the waves.

Initial solutions

On Tuesday (April 12), Duong Huynh Khai, director of the Ca Mau Province Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the provincial government has asked them to survey a pilot embankment being built in Ca Mau’s U Minh District.

The project has implemented solutions like reducing wave pressure, pumping mud and planting mangrove trees to prevent erosion.

If successful, the project will be implemented in Ca Mau Cape and other parts of the southernmost coastal province.

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Help readied for Vietnamese citizens in Ivory Coast: FM spokeswoman 

A supporter of internationally recognised Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouatarra mans a machine gun at a check point in the Angre district of Abidjan.

Vietnamese diplomatic agencies around the Ivory Coast stand ready to help Vietnamese citizens residing in the African country racked by unrest when needed, foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Thursday.

 

Nga said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ordered the Vietnamese embassy in Morocco to ascertain the number of Vietnamese nationals as well as their living conditions in the country that is said to be on the brink of a civil war.

 

Thanh Nien reporters found that many Vietnamese residing in Ivory Coast mainly run restaurants and photography shops, while most laborers are former crew members of foreign fishing boats.

 

A reader in the southern province of Soc Trang said his elder sister and ten other Vietnamese citizens were hiding in a restaurant in Abidjan City, where the unrest is most intense.

 

Many other readers reported similar situations involving their loved ones.

 

Le Van Thanh, deputy chief of Overseas Labor Management under the labor ministry, said they have never granted licenses to any local laborer to work in the Ivory Coast, and so far no companies or individuals have registered for sending laborers to the country.

 

“We only know of laborers [who are sent overseas] legally, so we cannot know the number of Vietnamese laborers in the Ivory Coast,” Thanh said.

 

But, the labor ministry is responsible for securing the safety of all Vietnamese workers in all countries, he added.

 

The French embassy in Abidjan told Thanh Nien Thursday that Vietnamese people in the Iovry Coast can contact the UN force in the country as well as Opération Licorne (Operation Unicorn), a French peacekeeping force, for help.

 

Vietnam evacuated more than 10,000 workers from Libya recently after the country was hit by anti-government demonstrations and a government crackdown.

Forex crackdown has eased market tension: expert 

A staff member counts US dollar notes at a bank in Ho Chi Minh City

The dong has strengthened against the dollar and dollar-denominated deposits have increased over the past week after the central bank clamped down on foreign exchange transactions in the unofficial market. On Thursday, the dollar traded at Vietcombank at VND20,865, down from VND20,880 a week ago.

Thanh Nien Weekly discussed the implications of the move with former State Bank of Vietnam Governor Cao Sy Kiem.

Thanh Nien Weekly: The government is strengthening surveillance of foreign currency trading in the black market. Will it be an effective measure given that the amount of foreign currency held by locals is very big, and administrative measures taken over the past ten years have been unsuccessful?

Cao Sy Kiem: The current measure aims to implement the foreign currency management ordinance which had been issued in the past. However, we did not implement it strictly, and this seriously affected foreign currency trading as well as supply and demand, resulting in speculation.

So, this measure is quite necessary. After strict implementation, the situation in the market is less tense, and the foreign exchange rate is down.

 

However, the issue is whether the measure is applied for a long time or not, and how ordinary people’s demand for foreign currencies is met. The surveillance tackles those violating the law and speculators who harm the market. Thus this is a normal measure and should be supported.

We have not paid due attention to strengthening activities of relevant agencies to meet the demand of people for foreign currencies. There should be commercial banks or local individuals with licenses, so that people can easily buy or sell foreign currencies to banks at stable prices.

The government has asked the State Bank of Vietnam to come up with a plan for foreign currency and gold bullion management and de-dollarization of the economy, which will be approved by the government in April.

If this is approved, together with the current measure, the problems in the foreign currency market will be dealt with. The market will develop in a more stable manner, and speculation as well as illegal trade in foreign currencies will be prevented.

Would foreign currency trade still continue as an underground activity?

– Obviously, when the surveillance is strengthened, we can expect that the trade in the black market will be disguised and conducted secretly. So we have to take tough measures to prevent it

POSITIVE IMPACT

Nguyen Quang Huy, head of the central bank’s foreign exchange management department, said the foreign exchange market has shown positive developments and the exchange rate has stabilized because domestic exporters who were selling foreign currencies to banks and authorities had adopted tough measures to stabilize the free market.

He conceded that this could affect some people who buy or sell foreign currencies in the free market.

According to current regulations, people can buy dollars at banks to meet their legal needs. However, some banks are still cautious about selling foreign currencies to individuals. People could also use international payment cards to meet their foreign currency spending needs abroad, he said.

The State Bank of Vietnam is considering some specific measures to make it easier for individuals to buy foreign currency cash from banks at reasonable prices.

In fact, one of the main reasons for the problem is the habit of hoarding foreign currencies. Is it easy to give up the habit?

– The habit is due to inflation and difficulties in buying foreign currencies from banks. As the Vietnamese dong is devalued, people buy dollars and gold as a way to protect their assets from inflation. So, we have to curb inflation, and when it is reduced, the dong’s value will increase. And when market management measures are brought into full play, speculation will be limited, helping narrow the gap in the exchange rates between the black market and the official market. When this happens, people will give up the habit.

In addition, our service should be better so that people find it easier to buy dollars from official channels. If it is easy for people to buy foreign currencies for legal needs like studying, traveling and getting healthcare abroad, they will stop hoarding.

However, it is not easy to buy foreign currencies from official channels.

– Yes, that is the current situation. However, the government has asked the State Bank of Vietnam to ensure that people can obtain foreign currency for their real needs even as it tightens controls over foreign currency trading.

The Boys are in town 

(L to R) A. J. McLean, Nick Carter, and Howie Dorough – three members of US boysband Backstreet Boys at a press conference in Ho Chi Minh City Wednesday

Nick Carter and Howie Dorough, two members of the world-famous American band Backstreet Boys, arrived in HCMC Monday for the short Vietnam leg of their This Is Us world tour.

The band is doing two shows in Vietnam: at Military Zone 7 Stadium in HCMC on Thursday and My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on Saturday.

The Backstreet Boys are the biggest selling boy band of all time and have been nominated for seven Grammy Awards in their long career together.

Many fans turned up at HCMC’s Tan Son Nhat Airport to give the ‘boys’ a warm welcome when they arrived after 36 to 47 hours in the air.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Backstreet Boys for months. And I just must go to Hanoi to see them,” exclaimed university student Thanh Xuan.

At Wednesday’s morning press conference at the Park Hyatt Hotel, which only lasted for 25 minutes, including the photo op, Thanh Nien Weekly asked the band what they expected out of their visit to Vietnam.

“We expect to give back what we get. We’ve had a great time for 18 years and gained lots of experience. We want to give back the energy and hope they (the audience) have a great time and enjoy our music,” Nick Carter replied.

Ahead of their Thursday show, the Backstreet Boys traveled around HCMC and visited the war museum, Ben Thanh Market and the Cu Chi Tunnels.

“This trip has definitely opened our eyes and taught us things we didn’t know. We had a lot of fun getting out on our first day here. We visited the countryside and spent six hours relaxing by small ponds amid the rice fields,” Carter said.

Also at the press conference, the band announced that they would be touring with New Kids On The Block.

“They’ve done well in the past. It’s a joint venture for us. We’re trying to do something different, create something special. It is the beginning of many new things,” Carter said.

Their world tour, which began in Europe in 2009, is said to be renewing and refreshing one of the most famous boy bands in the world.

A.J McLean said they had been thinking about the band’s direction for a month and decided to go back to what they were best at: pop music. He also said they were thinking of getting a new producer.

This Is Us – Vietnam

PARIS HILTON IN VIETNAM?

An exclusive source has informed Thanh Nien that playgirl Paris Hilton could attend the VIP party held to welcome the Backstreet Boys’ show in Hanoi. The party could take place at the Hilton Hanoi Opera, a property that belongs to the corporation founded by Hilton’s grandfather. Paris is also known as one of the Backstreet Boys’s ex-girlfriend.

Do Hoai Nam, president of Water Buffalo Productions, the promoter who has brought the Backstreet Boys to Vietnam, spoke with Thanh Nien Weekly about signing up the band.

“It took us a year of talks and emails back and forth. Finally, relying on the advice of international lawyers, we signed a very long and detailed contract. The Backstreet Boys made a thousand enquiries about things like the lighting and sound systems, stage design and their accommodation here,” Nam said.

“From the outset we didn’t anticipate making any profit from these concerts. Few international acts come to Vietnam, unlike in nearby countries like Thailand. We want to invite more international bands to Vietnam so that local fans can experience international music and culture. However we don’t hand out free tickets as it would kill our business,” he said.

“Some Vietnamese people spend two to five million dong a week at the discotheques,” he added.

He also told Thanh Nien Weekly about the habits and preferences of the Backstreet Boys. “A.J loves fast food, and Howie D really likes Vietnamese food, especially Bong thien ly xao toi (a vegetable flower fried with garlic) while Nick Carter can spend a whole day with a Play-station. Howie also feasts on parties. On their first day in Vietnam, Howie and his wife escaped from their bodyguards’ phone calls and went out all day,” Nam said.

In their concerts here, the Backstreet Boys will be using the latest Meyer sound system like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears.

Ahead of the first concert, the stadium was already teeming with hundreds of bodyguards.    

Nguyen Van Nam of the International Security and Protection Company, which is looking after the Backstreet Boys while they are in Vietnam, said that the huge number of fans could create problems.

“The guys have lots of local fans. “We have to arrange for 20 to 30 bodyguards to be present at every stage of the tour. Their four personal bodyguards are coordinating with us well. There’ll be around 300 security personnel for the concerts in HCMC and Hanoi, checking the fans and protecting the band members,” Nguyen Van Nam said.

These will be the first shows in Vietnam to use a special detector to check the bar-coded tickets and spot any fakes, he said.

Ticket prices range from 500,000 to two million dong. To book tickets and have them delivered, call 1900 6604 in Hanoi or 1900 6608 in HCMC.

Hoan Kiem Turtle to take its status to the grave 

 

Experts still divided on ways to treat turtle too old and special for conservation efforts


The badly injured giant soft-shell turtle living in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, pictured here on February 8, is said to be one of four remaining Rafetus swinhoei specimens in the world. The photograph has initiated a new round of talks on ways to treat its injuries and improve its habitat.

As local and international experts scratch their heads on ways to save an extremely rare and injured giant soft-shell turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, it looks set to take its unique cultural and legendary status to its grave sometime over the next decade.

One agreement that has been reached among the scientists is that the environment in the 12- hectare lake needs improving.

“I don’t think there is any one single solution. I think improving the habitat or improving the quality of the environment in the lake is one of the first things that should be done,” said Timothy McCormack, a coordinator with the Cleveland Metropark Zoo’s Asian Turtle Program.

“During the dry season, I think the water level is very low. The pollution makes it seem a lot worse. So you can add more water into the lake to increase the water level and reduce the pollution,” he told Thanh Nien Weekly on the phone.

It is generally accepted that there are only four confirmed members of the species (Rafetus swinhoei) left in the world – two living wild in Vietnamese lakes – Hoan Kiem and Dong Mo – and a captive pair in China that have, so far, failed to produce fertile eggs. One Vietnamese scientist in the forefront of efforts to save the Hoan Kiem turtle, Ha Dinh Duc, has claimed it is the only member of a new species.

The rare soft-shell turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake has played a hugely important role in Vietnamese lore for more than 2,000 years. The Hoan Kiem Lake turtles are traditionally viewed as manifestations of the Golden Turtle God, or Kim Qui. Legend has it over the last two millennia that they have helped design fortifications, thwart enemy armies and produced a number of enchanted weapons.

Photos of the turtle over the past months showed multiple injuries on its neck and carapace, which pushed Hanoi authorities and scientists to rush for solutions to save the animal.

RELATED NEWS

At a workshop on the issue in Hanoi on Tuesday (February 15), scientists continued to differ over the healing methods – removing the turtle from the lake to treat its injuries or remaining content with improving pollution in the lake.

Phan Thi Van of the Research Institute for Aquaculture proposed that the turtle be removed to an enclosed body of water and its injuries treated before it is released back into the Hoan Kiem Lake. Kim Van Van of the Agriculture University agreed with Van, adding that the lake should be dredged and cleaned.

However, McCormack argued that this could harm the animal.

“For the Hoan Kiem turtle, [although] the lake is really polluted, it has been there for many years. It is almost used to that water. If you remove the animal and move it to somewhere else, to a small enclosure maybe with clean water, it may actually make the situation worse,” he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Deity forever

Conservationists said that due to the advanced age and cultural significance of the Hoan Kiem turtle, it is not considered a candidate for breeding or conserving.

“Given its ‘God’ status, the idea of capturing it to check its sex was a non-starter,” said American Douglas Hendrie, technical advisor for the local conservation group Education for Nature-Vietnam. “So what we have here is a potentially sad tale. The Hoan Kiem turtle is old [and] it will die in that lake at some point, probably over the next decade,” said Hendrie.

“I fear that its cultural value far overshadows conservation interests and concerns, even to the point of allowing the turtle to die without replacement… and thus, the Hoan Kiem turtle does not factor into conservation at this time.”

Given this situation, conservationists have turned their attention to the Dong Mo Lake – a tiny body of water just west of Hanoi where a young, virile male Rafetus swinhoei is watched over by a team of conservationists and a one-armed fisherman who rents the eastern half of the lake. This healthy male may be the species’ last great hope, they say.

Duc, the Vietnamese scientist who has been monitoring the Hoan Kiem turtle for decades, said he would go ahead with his fight for the survival of the giant species.

Despite some remaining rifts with international experts on the issue, Duc has earned their admiration for his ardent conservation work.

“Duc is a positive voice for the [Hoan Kiem] turtle… and his life revolves around this turtle,” Hendrie said. “His heart is in the right place.”

Duc said his relentless conservation efforts have never burnt him out. The only thing worrying Duc was that he was getting old and no one seemed to be prepared to take over his job, he said.

“I have trained some people to work in the turtle conservation field. But they all ended up landing other jobs,” Duc said. “The modern life has made people more and more pragmatic.”

Will Duc’s idealism be pragmatic enough to save the turtle? Animal lovers in general and admirers of the Hoan Kiem turtle in particular are keeping their fingers crossed.

Tobacco smuggling meets high demand in southern Vietnam 

Tobacco packets strapped to the bodies of couriers.

Smuggling of tobacco products into Vietnam in the southern region has not reduced despite crackdowns, according to the HCMC market management division.

 

Last year 68 tobacco smuggling and trading cases were busted in Ho Chi Minh City, confiscating 48,696 packets, 4,100 less than the previous year, the office said, adding the number of cases has also gone down.

 

However, tobacco smuggling was still "complicated" in the city’s districts adjacent to provinces like Tay Ninh and Long An, in terms of scales and methods compared to previous years, officials said.

 

An investigation by Thanh Nien reporters found that smugglers were using various methods to bring tobacco trafficked from Cambodia into HCMC and Mekong Delta provinces.

 

Located in Cambodia’s Ta Keo Province and adjacent to Chau Doc Town in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, the Go Ta Mau Market has for long been a good choice for smugglers to transit their goods.

 

A local told Thanh Nien that almost every day a great amount of foreign tobacco ranging from low to hi-end products are brought from Phnom Penh and Kongpong Cham City into the market, from where it would be smuggled into Vietnam by road or river.

 

The tobacco is usually hidden under the high floors of shops built of wood at the market. Once in a while, a group of young people would come into the shops and go out with packages of tobacco on their back, heading for Chau Doc’s Vinh Nguon Commune.

 

One of the people hired to bring tobacco into Vietnam said: “Each of us carries over 500 packages (600 packets each) on average per day.”

 

With Tet (Lunar New Year festival) approaching, they are busier, carrying tobacco day and night to meet their hirers’ demands, he added.

 

Another one told Thanh Nien they are confident about carrying tobacco by day because some one has already “taken care” of the routes.

 

After being brought into Vietnam, a group of people would carry them by motorbike to other localities.

 

Each person carries at least 1,200 packets of tobacco and then drives at breakneck speed. On their way, they are informed about the presence of police on their cellphones, Thanh Nien found.

 

The porters also tie tobacco packets around their body and cover them under oversized clothes and take them by buses. Sometimes the bus assistants also join the business.

 

According to officials, local high taxes on tobacco is one of reasons for the product to be smuggled into the country. Since 2008 Vietnam has taxed tobacco at 65 percent for special consumption, and 10 percent for value added tax.

 

Underworld goes underground 

 

Interpol red alert subject found safe haven in Vietnam for five years

 
Bunty Pandey (right) was arrested in Vietnam last October. Police said Pandey had been living in Vietnam under a false identity — Vijay Subhash Sharma, 40, labor contractor—- while running his operations in India

Smuggling, kidnapping, extortion and murders galore – Indian gangster Bunty Pandey had plenty of such crimes to his credit, and was wanted by the Indian police for at least 38 cases – and counting.

Despite an Interpol red corner notice issued for Pandey in 2002, he was nowhere to be found. Since 2002, Pandey had traveled to Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The mystery was solved a few months ago.

He had been living in Ho Chi Minh City for five years with his family and children as a labor contractor and consultant, it was revealed last week during a review meeting held by the southern office of the Ministry of Public Security.

Among the 89 criminals nabbed in the southern region in 2010, the prize catch was 40-yearold Prakash Pandey aka Bunty Pandey. He stayed in Vietnam as Vijay Subash Sharma.

He had obtained an Indian passport from Mumbai in 1999 impersonating as Vijay Subhash Sharma. All his subsequent passports were also in this name making it difficult for Interpol and the Indian police to track him.

The gangster was arrested at a 20th floor condominium of Nhieu Loc Apartment in Ho HCMC’s District 3, where he was living with his wife and two children, police said.

The arrest was conducted on October 22 by a joint force of Interpol Vietnam and Agency No.1 that is in charge of handling foreign-related cases, following intimation from Interpol India saying that Pandey may be in Vietnam.

Thanh Nien Weekly learned that Pandey had not stopped dabbling in crime during his stay in Vietnam, although such activities appear to have been confined to India. He was involved in extortion and blackmailing even when he was here, and the police in India’s Mumbai City had cases on him as recently as in 2009.

In fact, his involvement in what looks like human trafficking came to light the day he was deported to India. A group of 16 Indian nationals were found by local police stranded in a public park in HCMC on November 4, all but one of them without passports or other valid travel document.

They said Pandey had brought them into the country in October 2010, some days before his arrest, and taken their passports and money, promising jobs and work permits in Vietnam. Since their documents could not be found and Pandey had been deported, the workers were also repatriated. Some of the passports may have been submitted for obtaining work permits to authorities in HCMC and may still be with them, Indian embassy officials told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Vietnamese police only said they found the Indian criminal by applying “professional methods.” The Times of India, meanwhile, said police tracked him down via a SIM card issued in Vietnam.

"He had been using a SIM card issued in Vietnam but would not make calls from this number. However, he must have forgotten that he had used the same card while speaking to one of his cronies last year. The number entered our records and we started monitoring it," the paper cited an anonymous police source as saying.

"His phone was being tapped. When the name of a local gangster cropped up, the police was certain that it was Pandey who was using the SIM card. ”

Reports from India say Pandey is being kept in an isolated cell of the Mumbai crime branch’s two-storey lock up.

Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae told Thanh Nien Weekly that this case marked “a high point of the cooperation and trust between India and Vietnam in general and the police authorities in particular.” He commended the relevant agencies of the Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security for their support in apprehending Bunty Pandey.

Asked about the trend of Indian mafia members choosing to set up camp in Southeast Asia, Rae said that “It was necessary to step-up cooperation between the law enforcement authorities of concerned countries.”

Pandey’s journey in crime began in his home state of Nainital in Uttarakhand. He came into his own in 1995, when he helped underworld Don Chota Rajan execute the killing of Thakiyuddin Wahid, managing director of East-West airlines, outside the latter’s office. Wahid had refused to pay extortion money.

His crime run continued for years. Mumbai crime branch chief Himanshu Roy said that Pandey severed ties with the Rajan gang in 2002.

The Indian police source told the Times of India: "He lived in a number of countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia. But mostly he spent his time in Vietnam where he had a work permit and was posing as a labor contractor and consultant."