- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Agence France-Presse) — The government plans to demolish a memorial built by Vietnamese boat people on a northern island where they were interned in the 1970s, reports said yesterday.

Officials in northern Terengganu state said the construction had never been approved and was to be destroyed on the orders of the Foreign Ministry, acting in response to a complaint from the Vietnamese government.

“We have to take into account the relationship between the Malaysian and Vietnamese governments on the issue,” State Secretary Datuk Muhatar Abdullah told the official Bernama news agency.

The monument on Bidong Laut, built in March, speaks of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people who perished as they fled their homeland.

Bidong Laut in the Gulf of Thailand is among several places in Asia that bore the brunt of the exodus of Vietnamese asylum-seekers after the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975 and, in the 1980s and ‘90s, “economic” refugees.

About 245,100 Vietnamese boat people passed through Bidong from 1978 to 1990, Bernama reported.

The decision to demolish the memorial triggered anger among the Vietnamese diaspora and appeals to the Malaysian government to reconsider.

The Paris-based Vietnam Committee for Human Rights urged Kuala Lumpur last month not to tear down the memorial.

“This is not a political memorial,” said Vo Van Ai, head of the committee and a prominent opponent of the Communist regime in Hanoi. “It is an expression of thanks by former boat people to … all those who gave them refuge in their hour of need.”

At the climax of the boat people’s exodus in 1979, about 55 people arrived on Malaysian shores every hour, Mr. Ai said.

“The monument is part of the Vietnamese people’s memory. What happened in our history must be recorded, and Vietnam must come to terms with this.”

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