The new ruling will apply to Russian ordinary passport holders regardless of the purpose of their visit from Jan. 1, 2009, Vu The Binh, a manager at the Vietnam National Tourism Administration was quoted by the Tuoi Tre (Youth) daily as saying.

The announcement came after Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem visited Moscow last week to discuss further cooperation in economic, energy, and mining sectors. The number of Russian visitors to the Southeast Asian country is forecast to rise 16.7 percent to 70,000 this year, the government's tourism department said.

Vietnam has been facing a shortage of Russian-speaking tourist guides to serve Russian visitors, many of them newly rich who often pick top-class services and long trips, tour operators say. Vietnam has so far exempted entry visas for 15-day visitors from Japan, South Korea, Demark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, the Immigration Department said.

By Ho Binh Minh - Reuters - September 20, 2008