Vietnam no to French general's ashes

2010-07-26 21:40

Hanoi - Scattering the ashes of a French general in Vietnam would set an unwelcome precedent, a Vietnamese defence official said on Monday during the first post-colonial visit by a French defence minister.

After General Marcel Bigeard died in France last month, aged 94, an aide said Bigeard had asked for the ashes to be brought to the former battlefield of Dien Bien Phu "to rejoin his comrades who fell in battle".

Vietnam's foreign and defence ministries do not agree with the idea, the official told AFP during a visit by Herve Morin, the first French defence minister to visit since 1954, when the colonial power France was defeated at Dien Bien Phu.

"We do not wish to create a precedent," said the official, requesting anonymity.

"One never knows if one day another former foreign soldier would want to do the same thing elsewhere in the country. That would be sensitive and complicated," he said.

Bigeard - one of his country's most decorated soldiers - headed a parachute battalion which was dropped into the French base of Dien Bien Phu ahead of the historic 56-day battle in 1954.

France was defeated, sealing the fate of its colonial presence and paving the way for Vietnam's emergence as an independent nation.

First in 56 years

Two more decades of war followed in Vietnam as the United States backed a regime in the South, until the country was reunified in 1975 under communist rule.

Morin called his visit "highly symbolic", since it was the first since the colonial era ended 56 years ago.

He said he did not raise the matter of Bigeard's ashes but offered to help Vietnam upgrade its forces.

Hanoi has already bought radar, helicopters and transport aircraft from France, Morin said.

"There is a very strong demand from the Vietnamese authorities for us to be able to participate in the modernisation of the Vietnamese army," he told reporters.

"We indicated that France was politically ready to respond to the demands of Vietnam."