HANOI - Vietnamese lawmakers on Monday approved a law to establish a marine militia to protect the communist country's maritime sovereignty, state media said.
The militia will "cooperate with border guards, navy, sea police and other forces to protect national border security and the sovereignty of Vietnam's sea areas," according to the draft text of the law obtained by AFP.
Vietnam has a 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) coastline and wants to fully develop the potential of its marine territory despite long-standing disputes with neighbouring countries, especially China, over sovereignty in the South China Sea.
China and Hanoi have a dispute over ownership of the Paracel islands, which Beijing has administered since 1974 when it overran a South Vietnamese outpost shortly before the end of the Vietnam War.
Separately, the potentially oil-rich Spratly island chain is claimed entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The marine militia will be set up "to protect our fishermen... in interest and sovereignty, not to oppose anyone" Le Quang Binh, chairman of the National Assembly's Defence and Security Committee, said in an earlier interview with the VietnamNet online news site.
State media over the past few months have reported incidents where Vietnamese fishermen were robbed or attacked by "foreign vessels" while fishing in Vietnam's territory.
"In peace time, the marine militia may join sea rescue and relief works or other activities at the request of the state. Only when war occurs will they be armed and become fighting forces," the deputy head of the defence ministry, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Khac Nghien, said on VietnamNet.