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German news agency apologizes to Vietnam defense minister for false death report

Sunday, July 26, 2015, 12:37 GMT+7
German news agency apologizes to Vietnam defense minister for false death report
Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh (in gray suit) sits next to a car at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on July 25, 2015.

A German news agency has apologized to Vietnam’s defense minister for mistakenly reporting on his death earlier this month.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Sunday that the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, or DPA, had sent a letter of apology to him on Saturday evening, after General Phung Quang Thanh, the Vietnamese defense minister, arrived in Hanoi from France in the morning.

DPA asked Lt. Gen. Tuan to hand the letter to Gen. Thanh, the deputy chief confirmed to Tuoi Tre.

The official added that he and the Ministry of Defense appreciate this move of the news agency.

“It was a pity that DPA falsely reported on Minister Phung Quang Thanh’s health condition. However, we appreciate the news outlet’s correction and apology letter to General Phung Quang Thanh,” Lt. Gen. Tuan said. “These responses were opportune.”

He noted that the defense ministry will not demand anything else from DPA regarding this wrong reportage of Gen. Thanh’s health.

The letter was sent after Tuoi Tre carried a report on Saturday on Minister Thanh’s return to Hanoi on a commercial flight operated by flag carrier Vietnam Airlines.

The article included a picture of the defense minister in good health, citing clear sources as saying that Minister Thanh got back to work the same day.

DPA published a report on this return yesterday and admitted its article about the minister’s death was erroneous.

“Vietnamese Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh returned to Hanoi on Saturday after receiving medical treatment in France, an army official said,” DPA said in its story.

“An earlier dpa report mistakenly reported that the general had died after receiving treatment at a Paris hospital, citing a source at the hospital,” it added. “A photograph by local media showed Thanh walking to a car at the airport.”

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This screenshot shows the DPA report on Minister Thanh's return to Hanoi.

On July 19, DPA said in a report written from Hanoi that Gen. Thanh had died the same day at a French hospital where he was being treated for lung cancer, citing an anonymous military source.

The German news outlet added that the source declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.

Then Lt. Gen. Tuan told Tuoi Tre, “The health of General Thanh is developing well. He is healthy.” 

He added he last phoned Gen. Thanh that same day. “The last time I called him was on the afternoon of July 19. His voice was very relaxed,” the official said. Gen. Thanh made phone calls to Vietnam quite often to direct work under his authority, he added.

He confirmed that Gen. Thanh would return to Vietnam at the end of this month.

After that, the German news agency modified its article on July 20, saying Vietnam denied the report of the defense minister’s death.

DPA repeated the 'death' detail in the revised version and changed its reference to “a source at the hospital [in Paris].” On July 1, the Board for Protection and Care of Health of Central-Level Officials informed that Gen. Thanh had had surgery on a lung tumor in France on June 30 after starting to receive treatment there on June 24.

The minister has suffered from a chest injury caused during wartime, and the wound has over time triggered fibrosis in a part of his lungs, according to a Tuoi Tre source.

Two months ago, the minister developed serious coughing and a biopsy was performed, but no signs of lung cancer were found, the board said. However, pulmonary fibrosis and serious coughing attacks are worrying signs of cancer, the board warned.

Minister Thanh was born in 1949 in Me Linh District, Hanoi. He joined the military in 1967 and fought on battlefields in southern Vietnam.

He was conferred the title of Hero of the People’s Armed Forces in 1971. He was once the Commander of the First Corps of the Vietnam People’s Army.

In 2001, he became the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army and has been Minister of Defense since 2006.

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