HANOI, Vietnam -- Murder and armed robberies -- sometimes for pitifully small amounts of money -- are on the rise in Vietnam and causing growing alarm, especially among city dwellers.
The army daily Quan Doi Nhan Dan, citing Interior Ministry statistics, said Monday that about 13,000 crimes had been reported in the first three months of the year, including more murders and armed robberies than in previous years.
The police, even with the help of the military, are barely coping with the situation, Vietnamese sources say, noting that urbanites are becoming fearful of going out at night, especially here in the capital.
Quan Doi Nhan Dan said gangsters, often armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades or pistols, are quicker to enter into gunfights with the police.
Gang members are as likely to be hardened criminals as demobilized soldiers, the unemployed or even students lured to a life of crime by dreams such as owning foreign products -- now reappearing in Vietnam after long years of isolation.
Vietnamese experts most often attribute crime to the deteriorating economy and the surge in unemployment.
Hanoi is losing its image as the tranquil, austere opposite of bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese sources say that in some parts of the city, especially the outskirts, attacks against restaurants and shops, and even pedestrians, are on the rise.
The security forces, equipped with combat gear complete with helmets, often have only antique Soviet-built motorcycles with sidecars, no match for the Japanese motorcycles that are the gangsters' transport of choice.