VIETNAM has refused to lift a ban on official memorials at the historic war site in Long Tan Cross in Vung Tau province as thousands of veterans and relatives are tipped to gather around Southeast Asia on Tuesday to mark Anzac Day, Australian officials said.
The ban, which is an extension to a policy that has been in place since last August, was highlighted by an Australian consular website saying the Vietnamese government had refused official commemorations at the site, including 2017’s Anzac Day, Australian broadcaster AAP reported (via SBS).
The Southeast Asian country has, however, allowed “small groups” to visit the site for “low-key” private visits without any media coverage.
Carl Thayer, defence analyst at the University of New South Wales, was quoted as saying last year, Vietnamese officials were critical of the 1,000 Australians who thronged the Long Tan site exceeding “past understandings”, adding the Vietnamese were “very finicky on breaking protocol”.
In August, the Vietnamese government called off a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Australia’s most costly battle of the Vietnam War.
Some 1,000 Australian veterans and their families who travelled to Vietnam to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan last year were barred from visiting a cross marking the site where 18 Australian soldiers and hundreds of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops died on Aug 18, 1966.
Vietnamese authorities, citing “sensitivities” that could affect the local community, cancelled the memorial, before granting restricted access to a smaller group of about 100 veterans to visit the site after Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made an appeal on the matter.
The sensitivities have led to the banning of wearing uniforms, medals or ribbons at the site. Flags and banners are also not allowed.
Elsewhere this year, memorials will be held at lawn cemeteries as well as Australian and New Zealand embassies throughout the region.
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Two former Australian prisoners of war, Harold Martin, who turns 100 this year, and 94-year-old Neil MacPherson, who worked a rail line during World War II, will join some 1,000 people in their visit to the Death Railway site of Konyu Cutting in Thailand.
In 1966, Australian troops, who were vastly outnumbered in Long Tan, fought off an attack by Communist Vietcong. The conflict led to the deaths of some 12,600 prisoners, including 2,800 Australians, due to disease, brutal conditions and starvation while being forced to work on the rail system between Thailand and Burma.
The Kranji War Memorial lawn cemetery in Singapore is expected to draw thousands of Australians who suffered in the notorious camp in Changi, many of which were sent to Thailand to work on the Death Railway.
Over in Malaysia, services will be focused on the Sabah State’s Sandakan war memorial, which was built on the site of the PoW camp during World War II to mark the remembrance of some 2,430 Australian and British prisoners as well as local people who died during the Japanese Imperial rule.
Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is also expected to play host to another memorial, as will several other sites in the Philippines, Burma and Laos.