In South Vietnam on Monday (23 July) more than 350 communist civilian prisoners were released in the first prisoner exchange to take place in three months.
In South Vietnam on Monday (23 July) more than 350 communist civilian prisoners were released in the first prisoner exchange to take place in three months. The Vietcong were later to reject 30 of the newly-released civilians.
The prisoners arrived by truck at Bien Hoa airbase, a few miles north of Saigon, early in the day. Vietcong officials, along with members of the International Commission for Control and super-vision -- the ICCS -- and South Vietnamese Army officers were on hand to supervise the exchange. From the trucks they were transferred to the airstrip while checklists were run on the civilian detainee, many of whom were women.
Several of the prisoners were ill, and a few had to receive medical attention while they waited to board the aircraft which were to fly them to Loc Minh, the communist-controlled town some 75 miles north of Saigon.
There had been speculation that up to 900 prisoners were to be freed to the communists on Monday, but a military source is reported to have said that red tape between ICCS members had reduced the time available and that only 375 could make the trip.
At Loc Ninh, Vietcong officials had set up a reception centre for their returning civilians. Small children, waving flags of the National Liberation Front, waited on the airstrip to greet the aircraft from Bien Hoa while ICCS member stood near the checklist points to verify the totals.
There were no visible displays of emotion when the aircraft arrived. On some previous occasions, prisoner exchanges have been marked by outbursts of patriotic singing and slogan-shouting.
Moire than thirty prisoners were reported to have asked for asylum during the flight and a South Vietnamese military spokesman later confirmed that their request had been granted.
When they arrived at Loc Ninh, the newly-released civilians stepped quickly into the reception huts, checked their names on the lists provided to the officials and were escorted, ways.
More releases were scheduled to contain a throughout the week.