On December 14 the trial of 21 men accused of espionage started in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
HO CHI MINH CITY ,VIETNAM 17 DECEMBER 1984 (REUTERS THAILAND)
GV & SV People looking at weapons on display./ Guns /ammunition (3 shots)
GVS Defendants being led into courtroom. (3 shots)
SV Leading defendant (Mai Van Hanh) speaking in court. (2 shots)
GV PAN listening outside in the street,
Background: On December 14 the trial of 21 men accused of espionage started in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The trial will end on December 18, when the verdict and the sentences will be known. (Please see agencies for the result. Almost certainly all 21 will be sentenced to death). The trials is being held in the old French opera house, which was the National Assembly building during the days of the American-backed South Vietnamese regime. It is located in the heart of HCM City, and several thousand people listened to the proceeding sin the street outside from a public address system. It was hard to gauge their reaction, but it seemed from their expressions that there was little elation at the proceedings. If anything it was sorrow. The 21 were arrested over a period of more than two years, and it is alleged that they are part of a Chinese/Thai backed front, known as the "UNITED FRONT OF PATRIOTIC FORCES FOR THE LIBERATION OF VIETNAM".
The Vietnamese authorities claim that they killed or capture 119 members of the front, and that about 80 more are still at large. They say that the alleged saboteurs were trained at secret bases in Thailand by the Chinese and the Thais - and that the overall commander was Thai Lt/General Chavaolit Yongchiyuth, who is now the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the Royal Thai Army. Chavaolit for some years was in charge of "Special Operations" conducted by the Thai forces. One point of interest is that the Vietnamese do not charge that the American CIA was involved in the plot - which the Vietnamese claim was aimed at the ultimate overthrow of the Vietnamese government - and in fact they only say that the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, knew of the espionage ring and followed the situation with interest. The fact that Hanoi has not accused the CIA is - in Vietnamese terms positively a gesture of goodwill towards the United States. On display outside the court is part of an alleged 70-ton haul of weapons and equipment seized along with the accused. The equipment is almost entirely Chinese made. A captured flag of the old Republic of Vietnam (pre-1975 US-backed regime) is on display and it was apparently the flag of the alleged "Front".
The principal defendant is Mai Van Hanh (pronounced Meye Van Harn), a 26 year old Matisse (mixed Vietnamese-French parentage), who was a pilot in the French Indo-China Air Force prior to 1954, when Vietnam gained independence, and who live in France and Morocco between 1954 and 19875. He returned to Vietnam in 1975, and since then - according to the charges - he has travelled back and forth between Thailand and Vietnam. Hanh is a French citizen, and a co-founder of the "Front", it is certain he will be convicted and almost certain he will receive the death sentence. Hanh was arrested October 1984.