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Sunday, 30 September, 2001, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Former South Vietnam leader dies
More than 540,000 US troops went to Vietnam
More than 540,000 US troops went to Vietnam
By Paul Harper

Former South Vietnam president, Nguyen Van Thieu, who ruled the country for 10 years, has died in the United States.

He had been in hospital since Thursday, when he collapsed at his home in Massachusetts. He was 78.

General Thieu was in power in South Vietnam until shortly before the communist forces of the Vietcong overran Saigon in 1975.

Nguyen Van Thieu
Nguyen Van Thieu (right) in 1972
The enduring image of him is of a defeated man, flying out of Saigon with a planeload of gold as Viet Cong tanks swept down from the highlands to crown a 30-year campaign.

General Thieu had in fact joined that campaign soon after World War II as a nationalist fighting the French.

US trained

When the guerrillas lined up with China, Thieu, already a fervent anti-Communist, fled south to join the army, and went to the United States for training.

He rose swiftly through the military hierarchy.

In 1963, encouraged by the Americans, Thieu was instrumental in overthrowing the then government in South Vietnam.

Two years later he was in power.

Stubborn

As the appetite for war gradually waned in the United States, Thieu dug his heels in at home, stripping South Vietnam of many of its democratic trappings and creating a more disciplined government.

At this time, the Americans and North Vietnamese were mapping out their peace agreement, which had no room for an autocratic leader in the South.

Thieu had no thought of sharing with the Viet Cong.

But despite his stubornness, he reluctantly agreed to the eventual ceasefire in 1973, which was to open the door to the Communist victory two years later.

He disappeared from public view, living first in exile in London, then in Boston in the United States.

See also:

13 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam 1945 to 1975: timeline
20 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
Murder in the name of war - My Lai
19 Nov 99 | Crossing Continents
Poisoned legacy of the Vietnam War
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