Bitterness lies beneath Vietnam's celebration

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The Independent Online

Vietnam mounted a triumphal display of communist pageantry yesterday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War but the festivities came amid disquiet about the future.

Thousands of veterans, serving troops and children hailed the victory in a two-hour celebration in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Revolutionary music and folk songs boomed through loudspeakers as trucks carried past floats of Ho Chi Minh, the former leader. Officials paid tribute to the 3 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed; 58,000 US troops also died.

While the theme of the 20th anniversary of the war's end was reconciliation, five years later Hanoi has sharpened rhetoric about US brutality.John McCain, who competed with George Bush Jr this year for the Republican presidential nomination, suggested on Friday that the "wrong guys won". Hanoi retorted by accusing the US of "horrendous crimes". The exchange exposed the bitterness that remains despite efforts to foster relations between Hanoi and Washington. The White House indicated that President Bill Clinton may visit in November, when he will be in South-East Asia for a trade summit.

Mr McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner in Vietnam after his plane was shot down, said such a visit may be premature. "I still bear them ill-will," he said after visiting the site of the "Hanoi Hilton", where he was held. "Not because of what they did to me but because of what they did to some of my friends, including killing some of them".

In Washington the anniversary of the fall of Saigon passed with muted observances at the Vietnam veterans' memorial, a wall bearing the names of the American dead. Veterans were at the wall at dawn on Saturday to wash it. They included Michael Lay, 52, who served as a medic in the US Army. "I feel like I've just cleaned up my guys. Close your eyes, and 25 years is only a breath away."