The South Vietnam Government, in their pacification programme, have begun tackling one of the toughest areas in the Mekong Delta.
The South Vietnam Government, in their pacification programme, have begun tackling one of the toughest areas in the Mekong Delta. They think they are making good progress in winning the support of a district that has been under Communist control for over thirty years.
The Communists were active in Vietnam even before the Second World War. The county was under French rule, and the Communists chose places where the people thought they had been harshly treated by the French as bases from which to start their revolution. One of these places was the village of Phong Thong, in the Mo Cai district. It became one of the most solidly entrenched Communist areas in South Vietnam.
The French had built a canal here, drafting in labour from the village to do the heavy work. It took years to complete, and many of the local workers are said to have died of diseases, malnutrition and exhaustion. The Communists never let the people forget this. They renamed the canal "The Canal of Tears".
A big proportion of the next generation of village people also died - fighting for Communists.
Late last year, the South Vietnamese Government tried, for the first time, to gain control of the area. They moved in, backed by American aid and money. The first thing they did was to pull down the village gate, built by the Communists, and put up a new one. Then they rebuilt the market place in the middle of the village; the old one had been destroyed by Government shelling when the place was in Communist hands.
Now, the Government think that the things are going well for them in Phong Thong. They are pinning their hopes on the new generation. A group of Roman Catholic nuns, who left Phong Thong years ago, have returned and reopened a school. The nuns say: "The children want to learn, and it's they who hold the future of Phong Thong".
One old woman who lost her husband and two sons in the war said: "I wish I could believe in the future, but I can't. My whole life is buried here. But I truly hope that the children can find a way".