WASHINGTON—Ex-South Vietnamese vice president Nguyen Cao Ky says the Vietnamese government has agreed to start restoring cemeteries housing the remains of South Vietnamese soldiers killed during the Vietnam War.
“I think the first thing to do for the current government to really erase past hatred… is to restore the cemeteries of the former South Vietnamese Army, so we friends or relatives can visit…and organize prayer ceremonies for the souls of our friends,” Ky told Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service.
"I think my suggestion was noticed by them, and after some discussion, the current government has agreed to this," he said, without elaborating. "And there is ongoing work for cleaning and restoration of those cemeteries that have been deserted for some 30 years."
The South Vietnamese Army's National Cemetery in Bien Hoa has fallen into disrepair, with some parts vandalized. Many other cemeteries have sustained similar damage, and all have been largely abandoned since 1975. Ky also rejected reports in the Vietnamese media that he had criticized top brass in the former South Vietnamese Army as "debauched."
The comments were reported in Vietnam's Thanh Nien [Young People] newspaper in its special lunar new year edition. The article, which appeared on the Internet on Monday, prompted a firestorm among the Vietnamese diaspora.
I think the first thing to do for the current government to really erase past hatred… is to restore the cemeteries of the former South Vietnamese Army, so we friends or relatives can visit…and organize prayer ceremonies for the souls of our friends.
"I always say that [our South Vietnamese] Army has shown so many examples of sacrifice and patriotism," Ky said.
"That generation of both South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese soldiers sacrificed for their countries. Examples of sacrifice, bravery, and courage occurred on both sides of the fighting line. And both sides had some corrupt and bad elements."
In November, Ky announced that he plans to retire with his wife to the country he fled in the closing days of the Vietnam War—and to publish a Vietnamese edition of his new memoir there.
"I'm 75 already—I have to think of retirement," Ky said in an interview. "I guess I'll come back to Vietnam. My wife is likely to go with me, but the children will do as they want."
"Whenever I meet with [Vietnamese] officials or people, they never say a word about politics but talk only about economic development, about this project then that project," he said. "So I really feel happy."
A former fighter pilot who sported sunglasses and purple scarves, Ky became prime minister on the back of a military coup in 1965 and served as vice president from 1967-71. He now lives in southern California.
Ky returned to Vietnam on Jan. 14, 2004, for the first time in 29 years, saying he wanted to put the past behind him. He escaped his native country in the closing days of the Vietnam War, which killed three million Vietnamese and more than 50,000 Americans.
His trip was widely slammed by dissidents and overseas Vietnamese as a sell-out to the Communist regime in Hanoi. But Ky told RFA at the time that he received a warm welcome in Vietnam itself.