Diem's division of ethnic minorities into prison camps

SR 2079
Beep tone
Roll 79 of Vietnam Project, March 6, 1981.
587 Take 1
Interview with Col. Y Bloc.
During the Diem period, in 1963, what were the policies of the Diem regime towards the ethnic minorities? Did they want to divide and rule the ethnic minorities, did they relocate you, and so on? Please describe the situation to us.
Y Bloc:
From 1961 on I was in charge of the sixth zone. During this period the Ngo Dinh Diem's policies were to carry out the strategic hamlet programs and to establish concentration camps, creating the largest prison camp in the Darlac area. To this end, they relocated the population from the plain areas and other provinces here.
For example, they relocated the population from Kontum here even. They tried to establish a chain of strategic hamlets in order to provide a defense parameter for Darlac. This was because they considered Darlac a very important strategic area in the Western highlands. Therefore, they relocated people here.
To this end, they carried out a policy of dividing the various ethnic groups from each other, of pitching the various religious groups against each other and of creating racial tension between the highlanders and the lowlanders. This was the greatest problem at the time.
Then, in addition to that, was psychological warfare. This was especially because under the French, in 1948, there came into being the FULRO movement. This FULRO movement was already in operation by 1954, having been created by the French colonialists.
Therefore, Diem was carrying out the policy of strategic hamlets and concentration camps and enlarging the prison camps at the same time be was opening up the military rice plantations along this line: If the inhabitants were Catholics then he called them the military rice plantations. If the inhabitants were ethnic minorities, then he called these places "concentration camps" or "strategic hamlets."
This was what he did. He forbade the ethnic minority people to go deep into the forests and the mountains, or to distant places. He was afraid that these people would try to connect up with the revolution.
Diem was extremely furtive. He created, in addition, various minority political parties in the hope of creating division between the different ethnic minorities and of maintaining the FULRO movement.
By 1962 we had the policy of destroying the strategic hamlets. The main thing we did was to rally the people and to educate the people to carry out the policy of "two legged and three pronged offensive" which included simultaneous political struggles, military struggles and struggles among the Saigon controlled population.
Therefore, the peoples of the various ethnic minorities created a very large movement to destroy the strategic hamlet program created by Americans and the Diem regime. The movement here was the strongest as compared to the movement in the plain areas and the other provinces. The movement to destroy the strategic hamlet program was strongest here. The local population coordinated their activities with the armed forces to destroy the strategic hamlets.
Actually, the armed forces attacked the military rice plantations and the local inhabitants destroyed the strategic hamlets, capturing enemy weapons. As a result, we were able to establish a base in this area.
In fact, we had revolutionary bases everywhere. The movement became extremely widespread by the beginning of 1965. From that time on, there was a Limited War in this area. This was another strategy by the Americans to smash the movement in this area.

The destruction of the strategic hamlets

588, Take 1
Could you describe life in the strategic hamlet and how the inhabitants and the armed forces could destroy the strategic hamlets?
Y Bloc:
First of all, it should be stated that the inhabitants inside the strategic hamlets had to endure all kinds of hardship. This was because the strategic hamlets were placed where people were concentrated and controlled.
They did not allow you to go any distance at all. They controlled your every movement and they did not allow you to have any communication with the outside. This was what it was like inside the strategic hamlets.
Outside of the strategic hamlet...When you talk about the strategic hamlet you have to understand that it was nothing but a giant prison camp. In reality, it was only a prison camp. There were many layers of fences on the outside. And on the inside of these fences you had many minefields.
If you did not have the support of the inhabitants, you just could not destroy the strategic hamlets. This was because there were four to five layers of fences. Sometimes they even had seven layers of fences. Then they also had spiked moats all around the hamlets. And stockades and pillboxes.
Inside the strategic hamlet they had police forces, civilian guards and regular troops. And so life in the strategic hamlet was extremely harsh.
The population suffered a lot. They did not have freedom of movement. They could not leave the village early in the morning. They had to wait until very late in the morning when they could go out to work. And then they had to come back to the strategic hamlet early in the afternoon.
At night they had to sleep inside the strategic hamlet. And if we had a lot of activities outside the strategic hamlets, they made the population sleep in the bunkers.
So the population died one by one. They got infections and cholera. The population of the strategic hamlets suffered all kinds of diseases.
As to how we managed to destroy the strategic hamlets, this is what I have to say on this. We managed to destroy the strategic hamlets mainly by rallying the population inside the strategic hamlets themselves.
We organized the people inside the hamlets. When the movements in these hamlets grew strong, we used a small armed unit in coordination with the inhabitants to destroy the hamlet. The main thing was to infiltrate a small unit into the strategic hamlet and use their civilian forces to fight against them. Therefore, our taking over of the strategic hamlets was quite simple.
If we did not have our own people inside the hamlets, then it would have been impossible to take over the strategic hamlets. In this way, we destroyed many strategic hamlets.
In some places, it was only the inhabitants themselves who initiated the take over. This was the case in Buon Yun and Buon Rang. The inhabitants destroyed the strategic hamlets, captured the weapons and turned these weapons over to the revolution. Then we established revolutionary infrastructures on the very same spots.
This was the tactic we used and we found out that it was the most effective and the fastest means for destroying the strategic hamlets. Therefore, while people in other places were not able to destroy the strategic hamlets, we were able to do as I described. Hence, in only a few months we managed to destroy all the strategic hamlets in this entire area.

The capture of Ban Me Thuot

589 Take 1
Please tell us the role of the ethnic minorities in Darlac province during the Spring Offensive and your particular role at the time.
Y Bloc:
First of all, during this campaign I was one of the participants of the Campaign Command. As for the campaign itself, we discussed very carefully the political and military implications of taking over Ban Me Thuot as the primary target. After we had agreed on the coordination of all the various armed forces for the assault on Ban Me Thuot, we started the offensive.
As we mounted our offensive, wherever the armed forces were through with getting rid of the enemy our political forces would take over. We fought the enemy at the same time as we were trying to explain our policies to the population. We tried to rally the population. Therefore, although our plan was to use seven days to take over Ban Me Thuot, in actuality it took us only three days.
When compared to the attacks against Gia Lai and Kontum where there were no political activities or programs to develop support among the population, and where, as a result, the victory was not complete, in Ban Me Thuot the victory was total, both politically and militarily. This victory was indeed total.
We captured a very large number of enemy troops and weapons here. This was partly because of political preparations, which we had made beforehand. We pulled together all the villages and all the districts to support the campaign, to carry out dich van activities and to fight. They also provided the necessary logistical support.
Therefore, the Command of the Campaign was always able to be very close to the fighting. The Command headquarters was actually placed only a few kilometers from here. As a result, nobody was able to flee this area.
Please repeat what you just left unfinished and say what you want to say about the event.
Y Bloc:
The Command Headquarters was placed along the most important attack route, which was to the northwest of Ban Me Thuot. We were only a few kilometers from the city. We attacked the city at 22 hours on March 10. By the 24th, we had completely liberated Ban Me Thuot. By the 26th, we liberated the whole province.
The result was that we destroyed the enemy completely. There was nowhere they could run to. Only a number tried to get down to Ninh Hoa, but we had cut off the road to Ninh Hoa.
And so we captured all of them. We captured over 3,000 enemy troops. The enemy strength here included an armored division, an artillery division, the Command headquarters of the 23rd Division and the Regional Headquarters of this entire region.
The offensive in this area reaped excellent results. This was because we were able to coordinate artillery forces, armored units, commando forces and the support of the local population in the offensive.
And our political forces were always on the heel of the armed forces. Wherever the armed forces went, the political forces followed. As a result, there was little resistance in this region. The take over proceeded at tremendous speed. Hence, total victory was assured here.
The only exception was in the no. 45 zone, which was where the airport was and where the enemy managed to send in a reinforcement of one full infantry division. Therefore, it took us three days to occupy that area. Hence the resistance in this area was a little greater and it took us a little longer to defeat them. It took us ten days.
What was the most worrying moment for you during this period and what were you worrying about most? Secondly, after liberation what was the scene like in the city?
Y Bloc:
In my position as a military commander and as a member of the Campaign Command, my worry was how to maintain our forces intact and how to gain victory as fast and as clean as possible. My concern was how to provide physical security for the minority peoples, how to have as little physical destruction as possible. Therefore, the main thing was to strike at the appropriate places to end the battle as quickly as possible.
For example, at the no. 23 zone we really did a demolition job. Then the areas where they placed their armored division, their artillery division, their 23rd Division Headquarters and their administrative headquarters were attacked. But the civilian population of Ban Me Thuot was left untouched. Nobody ever got injured. There was no destruction of the civilian area.
After we had liberated Ban Me Thuot completely, we established a Military Administrative Committee in Ban Me Thuot. I personally became the chairman of this committee.
After we established the committee, the enemy came and bombed the city. Therefore, about 300 to 400 persons were killed and injured. Buon A and Buon B were also bombed, and there was also some destruction as a result. Buon Pan Lam and Buon Cao Xiar were also bombed and there were also casualties there.
But during the first days of the attack, only the airport was destroyed by us. We only attacked those places where there were enemy troops. Hence, we managed to destroy and capture most of the enemy's tanks and armored vehicles.