Vietnam marks Dien Bien Phu 50th anniversary

11th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

HANOI, March 11 (AFP) - Vietnam will mark Saturday the 50th anniversary of the start of the siege of Dien Bien Phu, the epic battle that precipitated the collapse of French colonial rule in Indochina.

HANOI, March 11 (AFP) - Vietnam will mark Saturday the 50th anniversary of the start of the siege of Dien Bien Phu, the epic battle that precipitated the collapse of French colonial rule in Indochina.

The fighting began on March 13, 1954, and 56 days later, on May 7, shell-shocked survivors of the French garrison hoisted the white flag to signal the end to one of the greatest battles of the 20th century.

"The French loss at Dien Bien Phu brought to a swift end French domination of Indochina and their presence in Southeast Asia," said Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

"The battle came at the precise psychological moment to affect the French negotiating position at the Geneva Conference, held initially to consider Korean matters and then the conflict in Indochina," he said.

The French defeat led to the signing of the Geneva Accords on July 21, 1954 that split the country into North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

Around 3,000 French troops died or disappeared at Dien Bien Phu and 10,000 were captured. As many as 10,000 Vietnamese soldiers died.

But despite the heavy casualty toll, Christopher Goscha, assistant professor at the University of Lyon II, says the Vietnamese triumph was "a milestone in the history of modern military science".

"Not only had the Asian 'colonised' defeated the Western 'coloniser' in a set-piece battle, but the Vietnamese had also created a modern army from scratch in time of war," he said in October's Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.

Major celebrations marking the campaign will take place on May 7, but on Saturday authorities in Dien Bien Phu, 500 kilometres (310 miles) northwest of Hanoi, will launch a "Year of Tourism" in a bid to cash in on the victory.

For Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, the battle serves as a reminder of the values it hold so dear: the mobilization of tens of thousands of people, the unity of the party and the masses, and sacrifice.

"Keeping alive their interpretation of the victory at Dien Bien Phu is designed to appeal to nationalism as a basis for the legitimacy of the regime," said Thayer.

"The audience is primarily domestic, but the message to the outside world and would-be aggressors is: Vietnam possesses the military art to defeat any invading army. And they have the history to prove their point."

After World War II, France was able to reinstall its colonial government in what was then known as Indochina.

But from 1945, it faced a challenge for control of the north from the Vietnamese independence movement, known as the Viet Minh and led by Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

Struggling to counter their classic guerrilla warfare tactics, French military commanders in late 1953 picked Dien Bien Phu near the Lao border as the place to decisively engage the peasant army in a conventional battle.

The French built up their garrison, located in a sweeping, river valley, and by March 1954 around 10,000 troops were in position, their numbers eventually swelling to 15,000.

However as the build-up got underway, some 50,000 Viet Minh troops under the leadership of the legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap surrounded Dien Bien Phu. On March 13 they launched their assault.

The French army's outlying firebases on surrounding mountains were overrun almost immediately and the main part of the garrison found itself under siege and under heavy artillery fire.

Undermanned and desperately short of supplies as a result of their airstrip being put out of use, the French troops were unable to prevent the Viet Minh closing in.

Synonymous with the battle is Giap. Today aged 92 and in frail health, he is, alongside Ho Chi Minh, one of the most revered figures in Vietnam's modern history.

"The Dien Bien Phu victory shook the globe, resounding even in remote areas where people still lived in slavery, waking them up and bringing them confidence to rise up," he told a seminar last week.

But although the battle triggered the collapse of France's colonial empire, it took another two decades before Vietnam was finally able to cast off the Americans.


                                                              Subject: France news


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