AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNOR TAUESE OPPOSES AIR FORCE FLIGHT FOR STRANDED

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VIETNAMESE

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO (March 15, 2001 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---Congressman Eni Faleomavaega wanted to dispatch a U.S. military aircraft to uplift the 200 plus Vietnamese workers stranded in American Samoa since the closure of the Daewoosa Samoa garment factory in January.

That suggestion was raised during the meeting between Faleomavaega, Governor Tauese Sunia and Vietnam's U.S. Ambassador Le Van Bang two weeks ago, but the group decided against it.

Tauese was opposed to the idea, as he felt it would perpetuate the bad publicity American Samoa and Vietnam have received. Moreover, he felt it was the Vietnamese government's responsibility to transport the workers home.

Before the meeting concluded, the ambassador had agreed to pay the costs of returning the workers to Vietnam.

Regarding Faleomavaega's suggestion to dispatch a U.S. Air Force plane to Pago Pago, to pick up the workers and fly them to Hanoi, the Governor told the ambassador from Vietnam: "I disagree. That's not what American Samoa wants. It will be an embarrassment to American Samoa and to Vietnam," said the governor.

"We have enough embarrassment already in the eyes of the world, brought on by the Daewoosa saga through no fault of our own. If we bring a military aircraft it would make things worse. Word will quickly spread and the world will again question American Samoa, if the Vietnamese workers were really that badly treated in the territory," the governor told reporters.

Tauese said Ambassador Le Van Bang agreed with his position not to use a military aircraft, and eventually committed his government to bearing the cost of sending the workers home. He said he expects they will continue to leave in small groups and speculated that all of them will have departed within a month.

The idea of using a military flight originated with the court-appointed receiver for Daewoosa Samoa, Jim Fones.

Fones confirmed to the Samoa News that "I had the idea of using the military aircraft and followed it up with Congressman Faleomavaega."

Fones said he has backed off the idea because "the workers are leaving in small groups. Tourism Company 12 and IMS (International Manpower Supply) are doing a good job in returning the workers home."

Faleomavaega was in Los Angeles and could not be reached for comment.

Tauese used his press conference to thank the community for helping to care for the stranded workers. He said that individual families and local organizations are both providing assistance.

He announced that the Mormon Church made a $25,000 donation to the fund to help pay for food and other needs of the workers, and believes that the local Baptist Convention is making donations worth $300 a week.

"I want to personally thank everyone for opening your hearts and your homes to these workers," the Governor added.

Fones acknowledged that he received a $25,000 contribution, but declined to name the organization. "The donor wishes to remain anonymous," Fones told the Samoa News.

Fones could not confirm the $300 a week donation by the Baptists, but church officials told the Samoa News recently that providing food and other basic needs for the Vietnamese workers is one of their goals.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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