After defeating France and U.S., Vietnamese general says country must defeat poverty

He is thin and frail, his steps shaky and his hair tufts of white. But at 93, Vietnam's legendary Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap - who ousted the French and later the Americans - remains sharp and poised 30 years after the Vietnam War ended.

His eyes still light up when he talks about old battles, but today Giap is campaigning in a different kind of war - the one against poverty and the need to elevate the developing country to one that can compete internationally.

"Vietnam is heroic, but remains a poor country," Giap told The Associated Press inside his French colonial style home in Hanoi. "Now we have to launch another April 30 fighting poverty and backwardness to make Vietnam stronger and more prosperous."

Giap says that date in 1975 remains the most glorious in Vietnam's long history of wars. It's the day northern forces rolled into the former U.S.-backed capital of South Vietnam, crashing tanks through the gates of the Presidential Palace and broadcasting the surrender of President Duong Van Minh Minh over national radio.

But Giap says that day was also the end of a long, brutal era of war that included France's surrender in 1954, which ended 100 years of colonial rule.

"No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war," Giap said. "Some international friends advised us just to keep the north, and that we should not fight the Americans. But we still fought because for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom."

Giap was the military brains behind the guerrilla war. Known as the "Red Napoleon" for his reported temper, he was gutsy and took risks few others would have, often sacrificing large numbers of troops for strategic gain.

He surrounded the French at Dien Bien Phu by ordering his soldiers to drag heavy artillery across rugged mountains, and he caught the Americans by surprise in 1968 by directing attacks in southern-controlled cities, including the former Saigon, in what became known as the Tet Offensive.

Today, he still wears his military uniform and continues to welcome world leaders who visit Vietnam. Thousands of Vietnamese and others who ask to meet with him are turned away because his health will no longer permit it. But he remains a national hero _ the most revered figure in Vietnam after late President Ho Chi Minh.

"We have a responsibility with my father to keep him well and to preserve everything belonging to him," said Giap's son Vo Dien Bien, one of five children. "We're under pressure to do everything well."

Giap's wife of 59 years - whom he married after his first wife died in a French prison - also remains at his side and says that life has finally become easier for the family.

"My husband has shouldered most of the difficulties," said Dang Bich Ha, 78. "As his wife, I tried my best. But all the difficulties have gone."

And Giap says he has faith Vietnam will once again prove itself to the world by fighting a peaceful war to bring prosperity to the communist country.

"People did not believe that Vietnam could defeat the French and the Americans, but we managed to do it," he said. "Now we could definitely win over poverty and backwardness. Vietnam will be a strong and prosperous country - that is my desire."

MARGIE MASON, Associated Press Writer

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Editorial Team