HONG KONG -- Police regained control yesterday of a detention camp for Vietnamese refugees after a mass breakout and two days of rioting, but 32 fugitives remained at large in the territory.
An extensive hunt in Hong Kong's hills and villages snared 87 of the 119 migrants who had escaped the barbed-wired camp Friday in a bid to avoid deportation to Vietnam. Earlier reports that 200 had escaped were untrue, prison officials said.
While police plucked fleeing refugees off fishing boats and public buses, protesters left behind at the camp clashed with authorities earlier in the day, bombarding them with rocks and spears.
Police, clad in full riot gear and backed up by armored cars, shot 240 rounds of tear gas at the 250 rioters to dislodge them from atop dormitory rooftops.
Stalwart protesters used buckets of water and blankets to diffuse the gas and waved banners marked "Freedom" and "SOS." One roof was painted with the slogan: "Fighting to the end for freedom and democracy."
The clash ended in the early evening, when nearly 2,000 security forces surrounded the barracks, seized the protesters and transported them to Hong Kong's Victoria Prison. Some legislators are demanding prosecution of the ringleaders, but a government spokesman said they probably will be sent back to Vietnam.
The uprising was the worst since Hong Kong started deporting the migrants in 1989. Rioters razed 17 buildings, set 52 vehicles on fire and briefly held 15 camp officers hostage. Although the migrants burned down a building containing their records in hopes of slowing the repatriation process, the Hong Kong government said duplicate files exist.
Gov. Chris Patten vowed to accelerate efforts to clear the camp, saying that "nothing whatsoever, particularly the sort of outrageous behavior we have seen this week, will stop us." China demands that all 18,000 refugees still in Hong Kong be returned to Vietnam before Beijing resumes control of the territory in 1997.
For many Hong Kong residents though, the sooner the better. All of Hong Kong's major newspapers ran editorials denouncing the violent protests and urging speedy repatriation. "Time to get tough," declared a headline in the South China Morning Post. The Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal wrote, "While the British government tries to show off its benevolence, the Hong Kong people have to foot the bill and be blamed for being inhumane."
Many of the migrants, who fled Vietnam in fishing boats after the end of the Vietnam War, say they fear persecution if they return, although the country has changed considerably since their flight nearly a decade ago.
The United Nations considers the 30,000 holdouts still in camps across Southeast Asia economic migrants, not political refugees, and says they must return home.
The United States is offering slight hope of resettlement for those who can prove ties to U.S. forces during the war or who might be harassed for religious or ethnic reasons in Vietnam. The program allows hopefuls to apply only after returning home.