POLICE in Vietnam have launched a wide-scale manhunt for 230 drug addicts who are still at large after a mass escape from a rehabilitation center in the country’s southern province.
Ho Van Loc, deputy director of the provincial Dong Nai Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the breakout Sunday was started by two inmates, and eventually 562 inmates escaped.
Loc was quoted by the Vn Express as saying that the inmates broke through the Dong Nai center’s gates in Xuan Loc District at around 11pm Sunday.
He said the inmates blocked traffic as they flocked to the National Route 1A, the trans-Vietnam highway.
China’s official news agency Xinhua quoted Loc as saying that the breakout could have been caused by the center’s newcomers, who may have been psychologically unstable. He denied rumors that the addicts protested the center’s overloading or poor living conditions.
Police said there were no reported of clashes between the inmates and security guards at the rehabilitation center. Authorities have also called in reinforcements to maintain order on the streets, the local news site reported.
Eyewitnesses said the inmates who fled the center used sticks or machetes to extort money from them.
“They were screaming so loudly, scaring people,” an eyewitness told VnExpress.
Nearby residents had their homes broken into and had their properties vandalised.
Authorities managed to re-arrest 332 inmates as of 1am Monday but were still searching for the remaining escapees, Dong Nai’s police department said.
In recent years, Vietnam has seen several large scale escapes across the country following the government’s move to extend the mandatory rehab treatment period from one to two years.
Officials have said that rehabilitation programs in Vietnam – which combine education, communist ideology and physical labor for one to two years – have a high failure rate, with more than 90 percent of the addicts relapsing within five years.
There are an estimated 200,000 drug addicts in Vietnam, many of them heroin users.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press