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Spratlys > News > English News > April 2004 

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,  April 22, 2004 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has summoned Vietnamese Ambassador Dinh Tich to express the Philippinesí concern over Vietnamís inaugural boat tours to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

DFA spokeswoman Julia Heidemann said a first-person note was sent to the Vietnamese envoy by acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Franklin Ebdalin Tuesday, a day after Vietnam sent tourists to the Spratlys.

"We summoned him to be sure that we donít have any misunderstanding. It was not a protest. Tourists went to the islands we donít claim," Ebdalin said. "We just want them to be reminded to refrain from taking any action that will spark a crisis."

At his meeting with Tich yesterday, Ebdalin reiterated the Philippinesí concern over the Spratly tour in relation to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in November 2002.

In this declaration, China and the ASEAN member-nations agreed on a code of conduct to avoid any action that may heighten tension over the Spratlys, which are believed to contain rich deposits of crude oil.

Heidemann said the meeting between Ebdalin and the Vietnamese envoy was not meant as a reprimand, adding that it was merely a clear reminder of the possible implications of Vietnamís actions on the declaration.

"There is concern because we initiated the declaration," Heidemann said. "We want to be sure that the initiative will be fulfilled."

"If we can do this in a peaceful and collaborative manner, then we could avoid confrontation and maintain peace in the Spratly Islands," she added.

The Vietnamese ambassador said they will honor the code.

In the note sent to Tich, it was stressed that the signatories to the declaration must focus on the principles of dialogue and consultation, rather than confrontation, in the handling of the issue.

Ebdalin said the other day that the Vietnamese boat tour was conducted without any prior consultation with the other claimants to the Spratlys.

On Monday, a boatload of 60 Vietnamese tourists and 40 "invited" officials set sail from the southern business capital of Ho Chi Minh City on a seven-day round trip to the Spratly archipelago, off Vietnamís southeastern coast.

Heidemann, however, admitted that the declaration is silent on the issue of tourism and that there is presently no clear way of determining if Vietnam has violated any principles of the declaration.

She added that the Philippines is looking into the possibility of convening another meeting among the declarationís signatories to study amendments or further clarification to the documents following Vietnamís venture.

The Spratlys are claimed, in whole or in part, by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

Ambassador to Vietnam Victoriano Lecaros said he has already met with a number of officials in Vietnam to discuss the issue.

Prior to Vietnamís Spratly boat tour, Taiwan added to the tensions associated with the Spratlys when it attempted to construct a bird-watcherís shelter on a reef near the largest island in the disputed archipelago.

Hanoi brushed off angry protests from its Asian neighbors and insisted that its inaugural boat tour to military outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands was "normal."

"We are acting in accordance with our laws. This is a civilian activity, a tourist activity on our land. This is normal," Deputy Foreign Minister Le Van Bang told a business lunch in Hanoi.

China, Taiwan and the Philippines responded swiftly, accusing Hanoi of heightening tensions in the flashpoint region in the South China Sea. ó With AFP


source: http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl100252.htm