Britain, Vietnam and the United Nation's High Commission for Refugees have reached an agreement that could lead to the repatriation of thousands of the Vietnamese boat people from overcrowded camps in Hong Kong, officials in Hanoi said Saturday.

The joint statement, released in London, said that Vietnam had agreed after two days of talks to take back people who had not volunteered for repatriation but were not opposed to returning.There was international condemnation after 51 Vietnamese, which Britain categorized as non-refugees, were forcibly sent home from Hong Kong in December 1989, and the wording of the statement was careful not to suggest any forced repatriation.

The statement said the UNHCR would be responsible for coaxing the 50,000 boat people to leave camps in Hong Kong and return home, rather than the Hong Kong government as in the past.