- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

HANOI — The Communist Partys central body removed Vietnams top leader, Le Kha Phieu, yesterday amid dissatisfaction with his hard-line policies and named a party stalwart seen as more reform-minded in his place, party officials said.
The partys Central Committee replaced Mr. Phieu with Nong Duc Manh, an ethnic Tay minority, the officials said. Mr. Manh, a reformer, would be the first ethnic minority member to hold the top Communist Party position.
The 150 members of the new Central Committee, who were elected Monday, also selected 15 members of the partys policy-guiding Politburo, including four new members, the officials said.
The changes are to be rubber-stamped by a four-day national party congress that begins tomorrow. The congress, which meets every five years, also will approve a political report outlining social and economic policy over the next five years.
A draft of the policy paper made public earlier this year said the government would "create a conducive policy and legal environment for the private capitalist economy to develop" and privatize some enterprises. But it said Vietnam would retain state ownership in key areas of the economy.
Mr. Phieu is being forced to resign as party general secretary because of dissatisfaction over his leadership, the officials said.
Mr. Manh, 60, head of the lawmaking National Assembly, is a forestry engineer who has long been rumored to be an illegitimate son of the late revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. He is seen as a relatively weak leader who operates on the basis of consensus decision-making.
His installation would likely indicate support for economic reforms in a country that in recent years has been mired in corruption and bureaucracy.
The selection prompted Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, a reformist, to stay in his post, officials said.
Mr. Khai had threatened to resign out of frustration over the slow pace of reform.
The selection of an ethnic minority member could also help assuage ethnic tensions that erupted in February, when thousands of hill tribe members protested in Vietnams Central Highlands.
Peter Ryder, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, said the selection of a "more reformist, more internationally minded" party head would mean reforms would "perhaps move forward quicker than they would otherwise."
In 1986, Vietnam began a set of reforms called Doi Moi, designed to pull the country away from famine by allowing a market economy and increased private enterprise.

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