Hard man of Saigon junta does business with the old enemy

Missing persons No.14 Air Marshal Ky

Nguyen Cao Ky, better known as Air Vice-Marshal Ky, one of the most notorious leaders of the American-backed South Vietnamese government, was in Tokyo yesterday while the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon was being celebrated by the Communist government of Vietnam.

Mr Ky, as he is now more modestly known, has travelled far since the days when he served as head of the air force, prime minister and then vice-president of the Republic of Vietnam. Forced into exile in the United States four years before the fall of Saigon, he moved to Orange County in California, where he felt at home with other Vietnamese immigrants and local residents who are famous for their right-wing politics.

For a while he was prominent in Vietnamese migr politics, serving as a leader for those who dreamed of "liberating" Vietnam from the Communists: however, the migr groups were marked by failure.

To be nearer to Vietnam he moved to Hong Kong, where he lives modestly in the bustling Causeway Bay district. Although he has never returned to his home country, he is working as a consultant to the Hong Kong-based Jet Air company, which is developing an investment portfolio in Vietnam. His active participation in building business ties with his home country suggests a form of unspoken rapprochement with the Vietnamese government, a view reinforced by the fact that his wife travels frequently to Vietnam.

This is perhaps surprising in view of Mr Ky's reputation as a ruthless opponent of the Communists. Together with General Nguyen Van Thieu, he mounted a coup in June 1965 to topple the pathetic Khanh government, which had fallen out of favour with its American backers. General Thieu was made head of state, but Air Marshal Ky, who was prime minister, hogged centre stage. He was famous for wearing purple satin jump suits, carrying pearl-handled revolvers and cutting a dashing figure with his hairline moustache.

Official American endorsement of the new regime was bestowed by President Lyndon Johnson at a conference with the new leaders in Honolulu in February 1966. Prime Minister Ky hoodwinked Mr Johnsoninto believing that he was really a democrat who would be working for the development of his country.

A month later a more accurate picture of his intentions began to emerge when he tried to sack General Nguyen Canh Thi, who he felt had too much power in the centre of the country. What followed was a bloodbath and severe political repression in the cities of Hue and Da Nang. This turned the Buddhists into active opponents of the regime, and the quelling of their protests quickly dissipated any remaining goodwill towards the government.

A charade of an election, held in 1967, was supposed to confer legitimacy on the government. It was not the most fraudulent poll in Vietnamese history, but failed in its main aim. Mr Ky, however, emerged as vice-president.

The venality of the regime, its incompetence and its alienation of practically the entire population did not make for a stable partnership among the leadership. Mr Ky fell out with General Thieu and was outmanoeuvred by General Duong Van Minh, "Big Minh", a survivor of many coups and counter- coups, who signed the final surrender 20 years ago. The Americans had also run out of patience with Mr Ky, and willingly offered him exile in California in 1971.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower