Report from Cambodia and North Vietnam

We spent the first few days in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, speaking to government leaders.... Then we went to Svay Rieng where, after meeting with the provincial governor, we were taken to the border at Bave - this is the border with South Vietnam. It was interesting to see that in Bave there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the South Vietnamese puppet border guards to create an incident with the Cambodian officers accompanying us. At one stage, when a Cambodian photographer tried to photograph the border, the South Vietnamese puppet officers came to our side of the border with pistols cocked and threatened military action unless the film was handed back to them. Fortunately an incident was prevented only by the tact displayed by the Cambodian officers on the Cambodian side of the border.

We were told that there was a Special Forces camp just across the border and that the Americans flew in with helicopters, strafed Cambodian villages, and then took away villagers for interrogation. In the village of Soc Noc I spoke to a villager named Muy Tith, twenty-nine years old, who had been captured by the United States Special Forces. He told me that he was tortured and beaten by the South Vietnamese Special Forces and also by the Americans, who then asked him whether there were any Viet Cong in his village. As the man could not speak any Vietnamese, he kept saying, ‘No, no, no!’ until finally, after tying him up for two hours and beating him consistently, they released him and let him go back to his village. We were also told that others had not been so lucky, and while we were in the village of Soc Noc there were {133} twelve villagers who had not been returned: no one knew what had happened to them...

After we had seen the villages which had been bombed by the United States, after we had seen the destruction which had been caused by these attacks, and after we had met the victims of these attacks, we went back to Phnom Penh. After two days of talks with officials there, we went on the so-called Sihanouk and Ho Chi Minh Trails, which were long journeys. It was absolutely clear to us from the trails we visited that it would have been impossible for any large force, whether it belonged to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam or whether, as the United States claimed, it belonged to North Vietnamese divisions, to use those trails. It was impossible for any heavy trucks to go on those trails, and further on the river could not be bridged. We saw the area where the United States said that there was an airport which landed North Vietnamese and NLF battalions when they were coming back or going to the South. It was very clear to us that this was in a clearing, but the rough nature of the ground and the fact that there had been bushes growing on it for over the last two years, would have made it impossible for any plane to land. We also saw near the site of the so-called airport a lot of diamond mining going on, and they had large bamboo sticks sticking up into the sky, which the United States claimed were antennae for an underground radio station.

In any event, there was no doubt in our minds that neither the Sihanouk nor the Ho Chi Minh Trails could be used by the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces, and that the United States was merely using this as an excuse to bomb and strafe Cambodian border villages. This becomes increasingly significant when one learns that at the recent conference in Guam, it was suggested to President Johnson by Westmoreland and other military leaders that two Cambodian provinces be occupied and the war extended to Cambodia to stop the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia we found (and any other investigation teams that go to Cambodia will find the same) that there was no evidence whatsoever that there had been infiltration by the North Vietnamese forces.

Continuing our journey into the southern districts of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, we visited Ninh Binh province {134} and spoke to the Roman Catholics there and saw for ourselves the churches which had been bombed. The churches were mainly isolated, with a couple of mud huts next to them.

But the most traumatic experience was in the province of Thanh Hoa. It was 29 January 1967.... We were told that at 2.30 P.M. that afternoon we would be taken to the hospital in Thanh Hoa to meet and interview some of the victims of the air raids. But the same day, while we were having lunch, we heard the planes roaring overhead and making their way towards the town. Then we heard the bombing and the thuds which have become a feature of life in North Vietnam today. We were told that the trip was off. A major said that they were bombing Thanh Hoa.

At 4.00 P.M. we visited the hospital, the first place on our itinerary. This was the hospital where we should have been at 2.30. At 3.00 P.M. it had been bombed and some of the patients killed. While they were being removed from the hospital and taken to the first-aid station, there was another attack and the first-aid station had been completely destroyed. Incendiary bombs had been used and some houses were still burning. When we visited Thanh Hoa, it was on fire. There were embers and flames everywhere. We saw a large crater caused by an American rocket. Anti-personnel weapons had been used.

Mrs Nguyen Thi Dinh had rushed out of her house just in time to save herself, but she saw her house and its contents burned to the ground. When I spoke to her, she was weeping silently. She said, ‘Do you think I will ever forgive them for what they are doing to us? Never! Never! They must be made to pay for their crimes.’

Two hundred homes had been damaged or destroyed, and 125 families were homeless.

A hospital with Red Cross markings and a first-aid station had been singled out and destroyed. If the shelters provided by the authorities had not been so effective, the casualties would no doubt have been higher. Half of Thanh Hoa had been evacuated in advance as well, and this too was fortunate. I looked around for anything which could conceivably have been a military target in the town itself. There was no sign of any military object.

The part of the province which had been bombed almost without respite was Dinh Gia district, at its southern extremity. The {135} bombing was so heavy that no one had been taken there before for fear of casualties. We travelled there during the night, crossed a few bridges, and reached Dinh Gia safely. The next day was the most depressing day I spent in Vietnam. I saw bombed schools and hospitals. They had been direct hits. There could be no doubt whatsoever that this was deliberate. In the village of Hai Nan, a coastal village not far from the 7th Fleet, almost every house had been destroyed. The attack which had destroyed the village had taken place four days earlier. The destruction was obviously fresh.

I spoke to Nguyen Thi Tuyen, a twelve-year-old girl who had lost a leg. She told me her story in the following words:

I had just returned from school and was about to have a bath when the aircraft came from the direction of the sea. They dived down and dropped lots of bombs. I grabbed my younger brother and rushed to the shelter, but it was too late. A bomb fragment hit my brother in the stomach and killed him. Another fragment cut my leg off, as you can see for yourself. Our house was burned down. My uncle could not put the flames out in time. Now I live with some relatives. Will you please tell me why they are bombing us? ...

This was the story in almost every village I visited. These were no military targets, and the United States could not but be aware of this fact. The schools in the district had been dispersed to avoid casualties. Some of them were in shelters. Hospitals had been dispersed. Hospitals which had been bombed previously were now under the ground. At this stage I think it is fair to point out that the Vietnamese doctors are the most impressive group of people I have met anywhere. They are dedicated, and they have seen more suffering than anyone else, but it has not affected their morale in the least. {136}/

Author: 
Tariq Ali
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