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1975: Journalists leave fallen Saigon

VIDEO : The Viet Cong take control of Saigon

A group of 80 reporters and cameramen - including nine Britons - have been allowed to fly out of Saigon to Vientiane in Laos.

They are the first Westerners to leave the capital of South Vietnam since it fell to communist forces on 29 April.

That day there were chaotic scenes in Saigon as desperate South Vietnamese citizens tried to board overcrowded US helicopters in a bid to flee their own country.

The next day, North Vietnamese tanks rolled in and forced a humiliating surrender.

Thousands desperate to leave

There are still 16,000 foreign passport holders, including thousands of Vietnamese with French passports, waiting anxiously for exit visas and a way out.

After weeks of failed promises and delays, the Western journalists boarded a Russian-made plane belonging to the North Vietnamese Air Force to Vientiane in Laos, the only Indo-Chinese country that still has diplomatic ties with the US.

The fall of Saigon has been marked by victory parades by the communist forces over the last few days.

Posters of Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, have been placed on public buildings and marching bands paraded the streets.

Some South Vietnamese welcomed the victory - others loyal to President Thieu who could not get away committed suicide. Most are relieved that the war is finally over.

The communist authorities have so far been lenient on Thieu supporters and are more concerned with "re-educating" former soldiers and young people, tackling growing crime and food shortages in an attempt to bring some sort of order to the streets of Saigon.

In Context
Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and North and South Vietnam were unified in 1976.

This was preceded by three decades of bitter independence wars, which the communists fought first against the colonial power France, then against US-backed South Vietnam.

The US had entered hostilities to stem a perceived "domino effect" of successive nations falling to communism.

The jungle war produced heavy casualties on both sides, atrocities against civilians, and the indiscriminate destruction and contamination of much of the landscape.

In 1986, the communist government allowed in elements of market forces and private enterprise.

But some party leaders still fear that too much economic liberalisation will weaken their power base and introduce "decadent" ideas into Vietnamese society.

In November 2000 President Bill Clinton's visit to Vietnam was presented as the culmination of US efforts to normalise relations with the former enemy.


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