Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Trial verdict appeases US

SHOW OF MERCY A Vietnamese court handed down light sentences to three US citizens, probably hoping to dodge tensions with Washington at the APEC summit

AP , HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM

Vietnam defused a political storm by issuing light sentences to three Vietnamese-Americans convicted of terrorism -- deflecting potential criticism ahead of a key summit of international leaders including US President George W. Bush.

The defendants had been held since September of last year without charges after being accused of plotting to take over domestic radio airwaves in their native country to call for an uprising to overthrow the communist government.

"I am certainly pleased that they will be sent home," US ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine said on Friday.

They, along with four Vietnamese nationals accused of the same crime, were sentenced by a judge to 15 months in prison, with credit for time served. All will be released in one month, and the Americans will have 10 days to leave the country.

The case had attracted Washington's attention just before Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to make their first visit to Hanoi, for the 21-nation APEC meetings beginning next week.

The seven faced punishments ranging from 12 years in prison to death by firing squad.

"These individuals have been held for quite some time," Marine said. "That is allowed under Vietnamese law, but 14 months without being brought to trial is a long time for anyone. So, we're glad to see that portion over with."

Washington had pressured Vietnam to hold a speedy and fair trial, and the issue would likely have affected the APEC meetings without Friday's conclusion. The case had also attracted attention from a Florida senator, who reportedly vowed to block a key vote in Congress that would normalize trade relations with Vietnam.

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