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126 VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE VOLUNTARILY LEAVE HONG KONG

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A group of 126 Vietnamese boat people voluntarily left Hong Kong's crowded detention centers for their homeland Thursday, nine days after the colony forcibly repatriated 51 other Vietnamese asylum seekers.

The 46 men, 31 women and 49 children boarded a chartered Cathay Pacific jet and flew to Hanoi amid pledges from Hong Kong and Britain to continue the forced return policy.It was the first group to take part in the U.N.-sponsored voluntary repatriation program since the first boat people were forced back to Hanoi Dec. 12.

Thousands of Vietnamese in Hong Kong have protested the forced repatriation policy, staging marches and shouting slogans in their holding camps nearly every day for more than a week.

Camp officials said the protests have been peaceful but warned rising tension among the boat people could lead to violence in the holding centers.

Thursday's flight, the seventh in the voluntary repatriation program, brought to more than 750 the number of Vietnamese returning to Hanoi through the project since its inception in March.