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France to bring back remains of colonial soldiers from Vietnam

France's defeat at Dien Bien Pu spelt the end of France's colonial empire in Indochina (-)
France's defeat at Dien Bien Pu spelt the end of France's colonial empire in Indochina (-)

France is to repatriate from Vietnam the bodies of six soldiers who died in Dien Bien Phu, the country's last stand in colonial Indochina, the defence ministry said.

The operation will happen "in the coming days", the statement added.

Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam was the site of an epic battle against Vietnamese communist forces in 1954 that spelt the end of France's colonial empire in Indochina.

Vietnamese fighters hemmed in French forces -- equipped with superior weapons -- and bombarded them with heavy artillery.

The ferocious battle in the rugged, remote valley killed thousands of soldiers on both sides in under two months.

The existence of the six bodies, "conserved in three different locations", had been reported to the French embassy in Vietnam in 2012, 2021 and 2022, the ministry said.

The Vietnamese authorities approved the repatriation on March 25, and the bodies were exhumed the following day, it said.

Once back in France, experts will have to study the remains to try to establish the identities of five of them and confirm the identity of a sixth buried with a name, the ministry said.

Families will then be allowed to claim the remains of their relatives, or choose to have them buried in a national cemetery.

Those who remained unnamed would be laid to rest in a cemetery for soldiers who lost their lives in the 1946-1954 Indochina war.

Vietnam's victory over the French in Dien Bien Phu led to the country's division into the communist-ruled north, headed by revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, and a pro-US southern regime.

That set the stage for two decades of war, which eventually ended with the US defeat in the Vietnam War in 1975 and unification.

What was once called French Indochina has today become Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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