Mysterious Vietnamese man held in Pakistani Kashmir

MUZAFFARABAD (AFP) - A Vietnamese man has been detained for months in Pakistani Kashmir by puzzled authorities who were unable to understand him, officials said Thursday.

Vu Gia Po was arrested after being discovered wandering on foot without any identification in the town of Athmuqam, which lies on the Line of Control, police official Yasin Abbasi said.

The Line of Control is a heavily militarised zone and the de facto border between Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir, which the two countries have fought two wars over.

A Vietnamese government spokesman in Hanoi said Po was detained "around October 2013".

Pakistani officials were initially clueless about who he was and where had had come from. "He looked Chinese or Japanese but could not speak any local language, he had no travel documents, no identification, nothing," Abbasi told AFP.

"He could not speak or understand English and we were not able to speak his language, it was a nightmare," he said.

Po was detained for several months and questioned by various government agencies before being handed over to police. During that time it was unclear what authorities did to ascertain his identity.

Months later, local administration officials succeeded in identifying his nationality by showing him the flags and currency of a number of east Asian countries.

"When we showed him the flag and currency of Vietnam, he reacted and then we understood that he is from there," Arshad Mirza, a senior district official in Neelum told AFP.

A video of Po was then posted on the website of Vietnam's popular Thanh Nien newspaper (http: In the video, Po, speaking in the minority Hmong language, says: "I am Vu Gia Po from Khau Vai commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province, Vietnam.

"I was on a working tour in China. On the way back, I was arrested by Pakistani soldiers for three months. Please bring me back to Vietnam so I can be with my wife, children and family.

"I am not Chinese. I can not be on Chinese soil. I want to return to Vietnam. I will pay whatever the price is. Vu and Phinh were the ones taking me to work in China." It was unclear who he meant by "Vu" and "Phinh".

Hmong, according to a University of California, Los Angeles language profile, is spoken by an estimated three million people worldwide, primarily in southwestern China, northern Vietnam and Laos.

Mirza said Po had since been identified by his family, and he was now waiting to hear back from the foreign office on how to proceed with his repatriation.

Le Hai Binh, Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman, told AFP in Hanoi that Pakistan informed Vietnam of the arrest on December 31.

Then, "on March 21, the Vietnamese embassy in Pakistan said they had a consulate meeting with Vu Gia Po," Binh said. It was unclear why it took so long for the meeting to be arranged.

"(He) was in normal health, mentally stable and wanted to reunite with his family in Vietnam soonest," Binh said.

"At present, the embassy is actively working with local functional authorities to finalise consulate procedures requested by Pakistan to take Vu Gia Po back to the country." When contacted, foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said she had no information about the case.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.