- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

A group of Vietnamese expatriates held a memorial service yesterday at Constitution Gardens to commemorate the fall of Saigon 28 years ago.
In front of a large, traditional Vietnamese altar adorned with incense urns, candles and cornucopia of fresh fruit and flowers, former South Vietnamese army officers paid tribute to the servicemen from the United States and other countries who defended the south.
The expatriates also were joined on the National Mall by American politicians, Vietnam veterans and former prisoners of war in decrying human rights abuses still occurring in Vietnam.
"They've locked up priests. They've locked up monks. There are thousands imprisoned in gulags," said Mike Genge, a former U.S. civilian economic adviser to the South Vietnamese government held as a POW in Vietnam from 1968 to 1973.
Like many of the other speakers at the memorial, he chanted, "Free Vietnam," and supported the Vietnam Human Rights Act, which would make nonhumanitarian economic aid contingent upon an improved human rights record.
"For our people, the Vietnam War is not over," said Hong Tu Vo, a spokeswoman for the Council of Vietnamese-American Organizations, which sponsors the annual memorial service.
Miss Hong said the Vietnamese expatriates gave voice to their countrymen oppressed by the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam. They expressed their nation's gratitude for the U.S.intervention in the war and pleaded for aid to restore freedom to their homeland.
Nguyen Kim Ban, a former colonel in the South Vietnamese army and political prisoner of the communist North that took over his country after the fall of Saigon, likened his native land to Iraq prior to the recent war.
In a speech delivered to about 40 people, Mr. Nguyen said North Vietnam invaded his country just as Iraq invaded Kuwait. For nearly three decades, his people also have lived under a regime as brutal and oppressive as Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, he said.
Mr. Nguyen petitioned the United States and United Nations to push for human rights reforms in Vietnam with economic sanctions similar to what had been imposed on Iraq. He also pleaded for support in pushing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, restoring the old border between North and South Vietnam.
"The new world order will never emerge if the Democratic Republic of Vietnam can continue occupying [South Vietnam] and despising international law and conventions," Mr. Nguyen said. "The United States needs to live up to its role as a superpower so that the world will soon become a better place for all nations."
Virginia state Sen. Leslie Byrne, who as a U.S. congress member helped pass a joint resolution proclaiming May 9 as Vietnam Human Rights Day, also spoke at the service. She had supported a proposal to remove the Democratic Republic of Vietnam flag from Virginia schools.

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