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Government Withdraws Offer To Stay Another Week, Vietnamese Protest

March 16, 1995

MORONG, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine authorities on Thursday withdrew an offer to allow 272 Vietnamese holdouts to stay another week in an abandoned camp, and scores of refugees scrambled to rooftops and threatened to commit suicide if they were forced to leave.

As tension mounted, police rushed ambulances and firetrucks to the camp and warned they would remove the Vietnamese by force if necessary. Women and children perched on the roof of the two story barracks wept and wailed.

One senior Filipino policewoman, Lt. Col. Elnora Bernardino, was so moved that she too began to cry. One pregnant woman went into labor and was rushed to a hospital.

The government plans to move the holdouts to another camp as a prelude to sending the Vietnamese back to their Communist homeland by the end of this year.

The Vietnamese say they were promised resettlement in the United States. They have been refusing since last month to leave the camp and were threatening suicide if forced out.

On Wednesday, about 400 police were sent to the camp about 50 miles west of Manila to remove the Vietnamese, who again refused. After daylong negotiations, Jose Bustos, administrator of the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, said he agreed to a one-week extension.

Bustos told the Vietnamese he would have to talk with ``high authorities″ on a Vietnamese request to be moved to a transit camp near Manila instead of one on Palwaan Island, southwest of Manila.

But police sources said the week’s extension was canceled by the Department of Interior in Manila and orders were sent from the capital to clear the Vietnamese out Thursday.

The camp housing the 272 refugees had been funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but was officially closed on Dec. 31.

The Vietnamese had left their homeland under the Orderly Departure Program, which allows Vietnamese to emigrate to the United States after a period of cultural training and English instruction at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center.

But the 272 were later refused permission to enter the United States for various reasons, including fraudulent documents.

Water and electricity to the camp have been shut off, and the Vietnamese have been surviving for months on handouts from local farmers.

Police first tried to move the Vietnamese on Feb. 23 but that operation also was called off after inmates threatened mass suicide.

Update hourly