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Vietnam Celebrates War Anniversary

By Dean Yates

HO CHI MINH CITY (April 30) - Vietnam put on a triumphal display of communist
pageantry on Sunday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the end of the
Vietnam War, but the festivities came amid growing disquiet about the
reunified country's future.

Tens of thousands of grizzled veterans, fresh-faced troops and children
hailed the communist victory over U.S.-backed South Vietnam in a two-hour
celebration kept off limits to the general public in Ho Chi Minh City, known
as Saigon during the decade-long war.

Battalions of grim-faced young soldiers carrying rifles goose-stepped around
the sprawling grounds of the former South Vietnamese presidential palace.

Revolutionary music and folk songs boomed through loudspeakers as scores of
trucks bearing floats of a smiling Ho Chi Minh, the country's late leader,
followed soon after.

Children sang and doves were released while top communist leaders clapped in
unison from the palace's elevated driveway.

Police kept ordinary Vietnamese away from the palace by barricading all roads
a few blocks away. Attendance was by invitation only, although that did not
bother most Saigonese, who were content to enjoy a languid day off on a
steamy Sunday.

Vietnam has repeatedly denied it decided to shift the military parades off
the streets out of fear anti-communist overseas Vietnamese might try to
disrupt the event.

Officials paid glowing tribute to the three million Vietnamese soldiers and
civilians who died during the war. More than 58,000 American troops were also
killed in the conflict.

''The great victory of April 30 represents the triumph of the entire nation,
of justice over brutality and of humanity over tyranny,'' said city mayor Vo
Viet Thanh, speaking under a giant billboard of Ho Chi Minh.


But the posters strung up all over the city lauding the Communist Party
cannot disguise that Vietnam is still a poor nation of minor business
interest to the rest of the world.

While the theme of the 20th anniversary of the war's end was reconciliation,
five years later Hanoi has sharpened rhetoric about U.S. brutality during the
conflict, although Thanh made no direct reference to Washington on Sunday.

U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Hanoi and a key figure
behind the normalisation of ties between the former foes in 1995, poured fuel
on that fire last Friday by saying the wrong side won the Vietnam War.

Many Vietnamese were incensed by McCain's comments.

But they also express growing unease over Vietnam's woes: graft, smuggling,
heroin addiction, prostitution, excessive party control over the economy and
a feeling that the world is getting wired to the future and leaving them

Analysts said that while Vietnam's 79 million people had clearly benefited
from the ''doi moi'' economic reforms that were launched in 1986, its leaders
lacked the vision and political will to steer Vietnam out of its drift.

''The leadership looks really out of touch with Vietnam's youthful, and
increasingly urban, population,'' said Zachary Abuza, a Vietnam analyst at
Simmons College in the United States.


The one thing Vietnamese can celebrate is that the country is no longer at
war. Those young soldiers who marched around the palace grounds on Sunday
will probably be the first in several generations never to fight on the

Indeed, the anniversary allowed some Vietnamese time to reflect. For them,
the fall of Saigon and scenes of a communist tank crashing through the gates
of this palace were not just images beamed around the world. They saw it all

Ngo Si Nguyen, one of four soldiers on that tank, spoke to Reuters about how
it felt to make his first trip back to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday since
becoming part of history.

''Exactly 25 years ago...history gave us the honour of being here on behalf
of the millions of soldiers who died in the war to liberate the South and
reunite the country,'' he said.

But while the nation has been largely at peace with itself for 25 years,
suspicion of anything South Vietnamese lingers.

In central Quang Nam province on Saturday, Reuters Television filmed a
friendly encounter between decorated ex-marine Richard Lieb and a former
South Vietnamese soldier.

Lieb, president of SEI Investment Systems and Services, a global investment
services firm, had taken part in a visit last week by prominent American
corporate leaders to Vietnam.

But a local official assigned to help Reuters Television with translation
quickly stepped in, saying it would be illegal to use footage of the
exchange. He would not say why.

REUTERS 03:18 04-30-00

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