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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Communicating with Vietnam's war dead
By Joe Phua
Producer, Psychic Vietnam

Two north Vietnamese soldiers in May 1970

Although the Vietnam War ended in 1975, some families are still searching for loved ones missing in action and are turning to psychics for help.

Every day Vietnamese army units hack through malarial jungles. Their single aim is to bring back the dead.

Even by conservative estimates, the war claimed the lives of more than three million Vietnamese, among them a million North Vietnamese soldiers.

Thirty years on, more than half are still missing.

As time passes, memories are fading and leads are running cold.

Meaningless numbers

On this occasion one group of veterans have been lucky.

In Chu Chi, ex-soldier Tran Van Ban gently wraps the remains of the missing men from the Cat Bi unit he served in.

A small handful of psychics carry the hopes of countless families

Bamboo roots have burrowed through one soldier's skull.

The next day, the remains will be interned in the local martyrs cemetery, their graves marked unknown.

"All we can do is address them by some meaningless number," says Dr Ban, his face red with tears. "This is our sadness."

A handful of psychics are now carrying the hopes of countless families, desperate for closure to one of the bloodiest episodes of the 20th Century.

Wartime map

Nguyen Khac Bay
Bay is said to have found over 500 bodies in 2005

It can take up to a year to get an appointment to meet Nguyen Khac Bay.

Dozens of families arrive at his tiny apartment each day because they believe that Bay has the ability to communicate with the dead.

"Don't say a thing until I ask you," he says, staring at the family sitting opposite.

Suddenly Bay jolts to life.

"OK, got it."

He holds up a self-drawn map. Most importantly it includes a red circle, pinpointing what he claims is the final resting place of the missing relative.

The family later discover that it is a map of an area during the war, a map that is more than 30 years old.

DNA testing

Bay's base of operations is the Centre for Research into Human Capabilities.

Major-General Nguyen Chu Phac, is head of the centre's parapsychology department.

Map of Vietnam

He has travelled the length of the country, testing the claims of hundreds of psychics.

Many, he concluded, were fraudsters.

So Chu Phac assembled what he believed were the country's best psychics for Project TK05, a study of how the living can communicate with the dead.

"The results of this work were assessed by a special committee from the national science council," wrote the New Hanoi newspaper. "The opinion of the committee was unanimous... the results were astounding."

Formed in 1987, the centre's psychics claimed to have located thousands of those missing in action, but concrete confirmation is hard to come by.

DNA testing is out of reach to most Vietnamese, as obtaining it requires both cash and influence.

But some cadres that Bay has helped have done DNA testing independently. The results have shown positive matches.

Line of communication

Nam Nghia
Nghia believes the dead talk to her and guide her to their remains, so she can take them home

Vu Thi Minh Nghia - commonly known as Nam Nghia - is also a psychic, but she works alone.

Her home in the southern province of Ba Ria is a shrine to the estimated 4,000 soldiers she claims to have found.

Their pictures cover every available space. There are images of innocent youth frozen in black and white. A dozen coffins lay beneath them, ready for collection.

More than 400 others lie in a private cemetery.

Like Bay, Nghia attributes her ability to a near-death experience.

Guided, she says, by the spirits of soldiers, they appear to her as clearly as the living.

Last hope

Three days a month, she also performs sťances for the relatives of missing soldiers.

Nam Nghia holds a session for relatives of those missing in action
Nghia, like Bay, refuses money from people who seek her help

Amid a cloud of incense smoke, Nghia calls the spirit of soldier Vu Cong Trach, father and husband to one of the dozen families before her.

Trach's family have spent nearly 40 years searching for his body.

Nam Nghia is their last hope.

The psychic has nothing to go on beyond an army death certificate stating place of death: "The south".

What the family hear over the next 10 minutes leaves them in no doubt.

"The information she gave me about my home, about it's layout, the types of tree there, it was just too exact," says Trach's son, his face still red with tears.

Even his wife's miscarriage is mentioned, which is a family secret.

Later that afternoon, the Vu family search for the grave. The directions seem exact.

For this family, the search is over.

"My mind is at rest," says Phuong, the soldier's now elderly widow.

"This is all I have ever wanted. Now I can die happily."

As for Nguyen Khac Bay, he says that after helping a family find a missing loved one, he feels he has "helped play a part in reducing the sadness in the country."

Psychic Vietnam was broadcast on Thursday, 18 May, 2006 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.

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