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Vietnamese Leaders Meet to Plot Course

March 28, 1999|TINI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 150 Vietnamese American leaders, many from out of state, met in Orange County on Saturday to map out a plan to build on the momentum of recent anti-communist rallies in Little Saigon.

Leaders of the demonstrations, which drew thousands, hoped to forge a national movement for human rights and religious freedom in communist Vietnam.

"I want to see the flame passed on from community to community," said Tuan Anh Ho, a protest leader whose anti-communist group hosted the event in Garden Grove.

The daylong strategy conference drew people from throughout the state as well as communities in Virginia, Connecticut, Houston and Washington, D.C. Many were energized by recent protests in Little Saigon and elsewhere against Westminster shopkeeper Truong Van Tran, who stirred outrage by hanging a communist Vietnamese flag and photo of former leader Ho Chi Minh at his store.

Chau Ming Dang of Tacoma, Wash., came with high hopes of building on what he termed a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Dang had spent 13 years in a reeducation camp in Vietnam and escaped by boat to the United States in 1991. He has devoted his life to fighting communism.

"In 20-something years, we have never seen anything like this. We cannot waste this moment," he said.

Dang said he plans to return home and spread the word: "I will tell the Vietnamese community there that we should follow this movement."

Most participants said they are cautiously hopeful that the conference will lead to greater unity and action on behalf of the Vietnamese American community.

"I support anything that is against communism, and I hope this succeeds," said Ky Ngo of Orange County.

But there were some signs that the conference didn't quite live up to expectations.

Many of the groups that organized the large-scale demonstrations--including the youth groups that sponsored a rally drawing 15,000 people--were not involved. Nor were leaders of rival political groups in Little Saigon.

In addition, participants became bogged down trying to form an action plan. By the end of the day, members had agreed to set up a central committee to coordinate efforts, but little else.

Some participants acknowledged the problems but said theirs is merely one group among many energized by a common cause.

"For the last 25 years, the Vietnamese community has been largely silent," said Nhien Thai Do of Houston. "Because of Truong Tran, people are finally beginning to express themselves. The most important thing is that we have to make sure the momentum doesn't die. This is just a start."

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