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Vietnamese Who Burned Himself to Death Repeatedly Threatened to Do So

November 21, 1990

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ A Vietnamese-born newspaper publisher had threatened so many times to burn himself to death in front of the U.S. Capitol that friends no longer believed he would do it.

Nguyen Kim Bang set himself ablaze Monday near the Capitol’s West Front, apparently in part to protest Communist rule in his homeland. His body was identified Tuesday.

Dozens of bystanders watched when Bang doused his body with a flammable liquid and ignited himself.

″He said it too many times; it was like crying wolf,″ said Quynh Thi, publisher of the Vietnam Daily News in San Jose. ″He just said, ’I want to die, I want to die, I want to die in front of the Capitol for my country.‴

Friends and colleagues described Bang, 56, as a workaholic who never recovered from the trauma of leaving Vietnam after the Communist victory in 1975.

They said the father of five children was forced to spend time in a ″re- education″ camp after North Vietnam took over. He later fled Vietnam by sea.

Some co-workers said they assumed he hoped to bring attention to the issues of fellow boat people and the tribulations that Vietnamese guest workers have endured in Eastern Europe.

The fiery suicide evoked memories of the June 11, 1963, immolation of Thich Quang Duc, a monk who killed himself on the streets of Saigon to protest the South Vietnamese government’s discrimination against Buddhists.

Bang had left California two months ago to help start a Vietnamese-language newspaper called the Capitol Voice, based in northern Virginia.

Bach Hac Nguyen, owner of Capitol Voice, said she saw Bang on Monday but he gave no indication that he planned to kill himself. He left behind several letters - to Nguyen, to his wife and to Thi - all of which were confiscated by authorities.

Bang slept in a room at the Capitol Voice office and left only to shower and eat at Nguyen’s apartment, friends said.

While Nguyen said Bang’s suicide may have been meant to draw attention to the problems of Vietnamese refugees, Thi said she thought he was also plagued by emotional problems.

″He was very upset, and sometimes I think he was in mental distress,″ Thi said, adding that anti-communism had become an obsession for Bang. ″That was really a mental problem with him.″

Bang, a banker in his native country, fought in the South Vietnamese army against the communists. His grandfather, father, uncle and younger brother were killed in the war.

He and his wife, Doa Vien, 53, lost everything when they came to the United States with their children, now age 14 through 25, and settled in San Jose.

A telephone message to the family was not returned Wednesday.

Bang and Thi founded the Vietnam Daily News in 1986. Bang eventually left to publish his own Vietnamese-language weekly, Thuan An.


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