Vietnam Marks 70th Anniversary Of Dien Bien Phu Victory Over France

0
French Dien Bien Phu veterans Jean-Yves Guinard (R), Andre Mayer (C) and William Schilardi (2L) visit the former battleground with the help of Vietnamese soldiers

War veterans, soldiers and dignitaries gathered in Vietnam’s Dien Bien Phu on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle that ultimately brought an end to the French empire in Indochina.

Vietnam has invited for the first time a government minister from the former colonial power to attend official celebrations, which involve 12,000 people, a gun salute and howitzer and helicopter displays.

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh are among those attending the two-hour event that has drawn huge attention from tourists and residents of northwestern Dien Bien province, which borders Laos.

As celebrations began before a crowd of 10,000 in Dien Bien Phu city’s stadium, 90-year-old veteran Pham Duc Cu spoke on behalf of his fallen comrades.

“It moves me to remember the people who died to achieve this earth-shaking victory,” he said.

“The war has passed. We are so proud to have contributed to making a heroic and beautiful Dien Bien.”

In his opening speech, Prime Minister Chinh said the battle of Dien Bien Phu represented a “victory for justice”, marking the collapse of colonialism.

“Many martyrs cannot be identified,” he said. “Their blood in this northwestern area was shed for our happiness today.”

The speeches followed 21 rounds of fireworks and the Vietnamese national anthem before a huge military parade got under way.

Eleven helicopters flew over the stadium carrying the flags of Vietnam and the Communist Party.

Outside the stadium, thousands of people wearing ao dai — traditional Vietnamese dress — as well as people wearing clothes typical of local Thai and Hmong ethnic minorities queued in the streets to see the parade.

“I’ve been here since 4 am,” said Nguyen Thi Lan, 55. “It’s a great day that I cannot miss.”

France surrendered to the attacking Viet Minh on May 7, 1954, putting an end to 56 days of shelling and hand-to-hand combat.

Around 13,000 people were reported dead or missing during the conflict, including 10,000 from the Viet Minh side.

“I fired a shot which hit two people, killing one on the spot and the other one with one more shot,” recalled veteran infantry soldier Hoang Van Bay, 93.

“Injuries and deaths were normal on the battlefield, nothing to be scared of. We fought for our independence and freedom,” Bay told AFP, adding he visited his fallen comrades at Dien Bien Phu city’s cemetery every year.

The French force — about 15,000 men of many nationalities — had underestimated the firepower of the communist forces, who managed to install artillery on the hills overlooking the French camp.

In a staggering feat of military logistics, the Viet Minh had transported the heavy weaponry in pieces hundreds of kilometres through the jungle, sometimes by bicycle.

Their victory later led to the Geneva Accords on July 21, 1954, which marked the end of almost a century of French domination in Indochina and the partition of Vietnam, a prelude to future American involvement.

Relations between the two former enemies are now cordial, despite the human rights abuses of which the communist government is regularly accused.

The tree-lined streets of Dien Bien Phu were adorned with communist slogans and banners carrying photos of independence hero Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap, commander in chief of the Dien Bien Phu campaign.

The province’s battle sites are also undergoing a major facelift, with the Vietnamese authorities keen to turn the area into a tourism hotspot.

“Twenty years ago, it (the commemoration) was much more discreet. There was a sort of holding back on the Vietnamese side because May 7 is sacred for them,” said Pierre Journoud, professor of contemporary history at Paul Valery-Montpellier University, who is attending the commemorations.

“We are seeing more openness today.”

He said that Vietnam’s invitation to Lecornu reflects shared political interests, as tensions simmer between Hanoi and Beijing over their competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

After the United States and China, “France wants to be a third voice in the Asia-Pacific region, and this is in line with the position of Vietnam, which is caught between two strangleholds,” he said.

Ninety-two-year-old Jean-Yves Guinard, one of three French veterans who returned to their former camp for the anniversary, told AFP he “remained very attached to this country”.

The three were surrounded as they arrived at the Dien Bien Phu Victory Museum Monday by locals and tourists trying to take selfies with the former “enemy”.

A Vietnamese woman wearing a traditional dress poses for photos next to a French tank on top of the A1 hill historical battle site in Dien Bien Phu city
AFP
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu examines a map of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu ahead of commemorations for the battle's 70th anniversary
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu examines a map of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu ahead of commemorations for the battle’s 70th anniversary
AFP
Vietnamese veteran Hoang Van Bay took part in the 56 bloody days of Dien Bien Phu
Vietnamese veteran Hoang Van Bay took part in the 56 bloody days of Dien Bien Phu
AFP

#Vietnam #Marks #70th #Anniversary #Dien #Bien #Phu #Victory #France

About Author

Leave a Reply