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Graves Show Divisions Unhealed

At a military cemetery on the outskirts of this city, there is no evidence of reconciliation between the communist victors and their vanquished countrymen and women.

Here, the graves of thousands of soldiers of the former South Vietnamese regime lie in disrepair. Broken headstones litter a landscape that is barren of vegetation save for scrub brush and weeds.

“It is very sad,” said Ut An, 52, a farmer who tends 10 gravesites for relatives of soldiers buried here. She looked around at the desolate hillside. “No one cares.”

In contrast, a military cemetery about a half mile down the road and within view, features emerald grass and flowering shrubs. That cemetery holds more than 10,000 graves of communist soldiers.

On Saturday, the day before the 20th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, dignitaries and veterans visited the site to lay wreaths and praise fallen comrades.

The two cemeteries underscore a divide that remains between some Vietnamese even as the government attempts to improve relations with the United States.

The cemetery for former South Vietnamese soldiers, established in 1968, sits about nine miles from downtown, across the Saigon River.

It is unmarked, built on a dusty hillside of red clay. Slabs of concrete marking graves have broken or been stolen.

“There is still a corpse there,” said An, pointing to a hole in the ground. “Someone took the stone.”

Cattle and water buffalo roam freely, knocking over headstones and littering the ground with feces.

Some graves have been dug up by relatives, the remains cremated and brought to pagodas, leaving gaping holes frequented by snakes.

Families - including a few from overseas - pay $3 a year to tend the graves of their relatives. Some of those relatives have given district officials money so that the cemetery can be repaired, said An, but no such work has been done.

In contrast, the cemetery for communist soldiers is as manicured as the nearby golf course. Neatly groomed walkways lead to benches set under canopies of trees. Gravestones are grouped, eight together around a flowering bush. Each grouping is numbered so that relatives can find the location.

Each headstone sits beside two blue vases and a blue pot for incense and offerings. Women in conical hats - hired by the government - use rubber hoses to water the plants and grass in scorching midday sun.

At the cemetery for South Vietnamese, two young communist soldiers patrol, armed with one gun and one long stick to shoo snakes. “I am afraid to come here,” said Long, 24, a draftee. “I am afraid I will see their ghosts.”

Tags: Vietnam

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