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O.C. Activist's Release Is Celebrated

South Korea declines to extradite the head of an anti-Communist group to face trial in Vietnam.

July 28, 2006|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Members of Orange County's Vietnamese community celebrated the release of a popular anti-Communist activist Thursday after nearly four months of detainment in South Korea.

Chanh Huu Nguyen, 57, a onetime construction engineer who spearheads a Garden Grove-based exile organization called Government of Free Vietnam, was released late Wednesday after a South Korean court rejected a request by Vietnam that he be extradited to face terrorism charges.

"We decided that we cannot allow extradition of the suspect since we recognize him as a political criminal," the court said in a statement announcing its decision.

Nguyen and his U.S. supporters, who had mounted an ambitious campaign for his release, have steadfastly denied that he or his organization endorses or engages in terrorism.

"We are very happy that the South Koreans made the right decision," said Daingu Nguyen, a spokesman for the group, who is no relation to Chanh.

"I will tell you the truth: My reaction was like most people's. I was crying. This is very emotional for us."

Chanh Huu Nguyen was arrested in April during a visit to Seoul at the request of the Vietnamese government, which wanted to prosecute him for alleged terrorist acts, including failed plots to bomb its embassies in the Philippines and Thailand.

Nguyen's organization says it aims to achieve democracy in Vietnam through nonviolence.

"We do not fight against the Vietnamese government," Daingu Nguyen said. "We fight against the ideology it is imposing on the people of Vietnam. Our goal is to fight that ideology, not the person who's wearing that shirt."

Late Wednesday, he said, about 400 supporters bearing blankets and food gathered in the parking lot of a Little Saigon radio station to hear two phone interviews with Nguyen, who was still in Asia.

"He said thank you to the American community and to the Vietnamese community," said Daingu Nguyen, whose group had circulated petitions, organized hunger strikes, staged rallies and held vigils on the jailed man's behalf. "Everybody was choking in tears."

Nguyen said the activist leader is expected to fly back to Los Angeles, possibly this weekend.

"It's going to be a very emotional welcome back," he said. "He will be met at the airport by the former president of South Vietnam, many former generals and the leadership of our organization."

Chanh Huu Nguyen's return to Southern California, he said, will enhance the anti-Communist group's work.

"You can't fight a disaster just by being part time," the spokesman said. "You can't be a weekend warrior. We believe that Mr. Nguyen is one of the very few leaders who has devoted 100% of his time, resources and life to the cause we believe in; it's hard to find another one like that."

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