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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
The day the Vietnam War ended
North Vietnamese communist tank driving through the main gate of the presidential palace of the US-backed South Vietnam regime, 30 April 1975
The final assault on Saigon was over in less than a day
Thirty years ago on Saturday, the Communist armies of North Vietnam captured the city of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War. BBC Vietnamese reporters have spoken to some of the key figures involved in the final battle.

At 1045 on 30 April 1975, two communist tanks crashed though the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon.

Soon after, soldiers climbed on top of the palace to plant a red and blue flag with the yellow star of the Revolutionary Forces of North Vietnam.

But then nothing happened for several hours.

The conquering soldiers were left walking up and down the palace's corridors and stairs, or resting by their tanks in the front yard.

Inside the palace, all the cabinet members of the South Vietnamese government, with General Duong Van Minh as its president, were sitting around a big table, nervously drinking tea.

The attack had been too swift and Tank Units 843 and 390 reached the centre of Saigon before anyone in the communist army had the time to prepare a proper ceremony for the handover of power.

Colonel Bui Tin, a journalist for the Communist Armed Forces newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan, had just arrived to report on the battle of Saigon.

Bui Tin in Paris
30 years on, Bui Tin can still recall the moment he made history

By chance, he was the only high ranking officer from the Northern forces inside the palace, and as the unease grew with each passing hour, he was asked by his colleagues to accept the capitulation of Saigon.

Now exiled in Paris, Bui Tin recalled the moment he walked into the room.

"I went in. All of them stood up," he said.

"I recognized President Duong Van Minh because he was very tall. Duong Van Minh stepped forward and said: 'We've been waiting for you since morning to hand over the government'."

Bui Tin denied reports that he wielded a gun at Duong Van Minh. But he did confirm to the BBC that he did utter the now famous response: "You don't have any government to hand over to us."

In fact, the Republic of South Vietnam had started to crumble several weeks before it fell.

The fateful day marking the beginning of the end was actually 21 April, when President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and then left the country.

His replacement, Duong Van Minh, had only one mission to accomplish, according to his former assistant and cabinet member, General Nguyen Huu Hanh.

Mr Hanh, an 81-year-old now living in Ho Chi Minh City, said that Duong Van Minh wanted to end the fighting in order to save Saigon and avoid civilian casualties.

As a general himself, President Minh knew only too well that there was nothing left to defend. He did not want to evacuate the government to the Mekong Delta as some of his generals had suggested. He just wanted peace.

National reconciliation

General Thao talks to a BBC Vietnamese reporter in Hanoi
We can't forget the past, but must work with all good people who respect our national independence for the future and the country's development
General Hoang Minh Thao

After handing over power, Duong Van Minh was asked to leave the palace with a group of communist officers.

They took him by car to Saigon Radio to record his statement of capitulation.

"Saigon has been liberated. At 1330, President Duong Van Minh has just announced unconditional capitulation of the 'puppet regime' in Saigon," the radio announcer said.

The message was broadcast across the city, making more than a million South Vietnamese soldiers drop their weapons and run for their lives. Some even committed suicide.

Remembering that moment, former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, then a Vietcong leader, said he sighed with deep relief and felt great thanks towards Duong Van Minh.

In a rare interview to mark 30 years since the war, Mr Kiet said that if the fighting had continued, Saigon would have been ruined and millions of people would have lost their lives. He went on to say that 30 April was a great day for millions of Vietnamese.

But for millions more it was a very sad day, and now was the time for national reconciliation, he said.

The collapse of Saigon in just one day was undoubtedly down to the skill of the communist armed forces and their leaders.

However, the speedy military campaign also brought about many longer-lasting problems.

Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese officers and soldiers were imprisoned for years after the war.

Discrimination against them and their families, including children, forced millions to risk their lives on the open sea to flee Vietnam.

In the 30 years since the war, the communist victors have done a great deal to reform the economy, but very little to abandon their military rhetoric.

Vietnamese media still dismisses the South Vietnamese as "the aggressor's servants" and praises the People's Army for its war efforts.

But those people who were soldiers during the conflict seem to have more tolerance towards their former enemy.

Communist General Hoang Minh Thao, who led the flank attack on Saigon from Phan Rang province, agreed with Vo Van Kiet's idea of opening a new chapter in history.

"We can't forget the past, but must work with all good people who respect our national independence for the future and the country's development," he told the BBC.

He is still proud of the communist victory, but admits that the party's leadership made some mistakes after the war, both in its handling of the economy and diplomatically.

Thirty years on, reconciliation is still very much needed.


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