Vietnam allows cancelled battle commemoration: Australia

The remains of 25 Australian soldiers killed in the Vietnam War and buried in Malaysia and Singapore along with eight dependents, arrive at the Richmond Air Force base near Sydney to a full military ceremony.
The remains of 25 Australian soldiers killed in the Vietnam War and buried in Malaysia and Singapore along with eight dependents, arrive at the Richmond Air Force base near Sydney to a full military ceremony. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Vietnam will allow an Australian war commemoration to go ahead on the site of the Battle of Long Tan on Thursday's (Aug 18) 50th anniversary, reversing an earlier ban, a minister said.

Canberra announced Wednesday that Vietnam had cancelled the ceremonies at the last minute describing the surprise move as "a kick in the guts".

More than 1,000 veterans and their families have travelled to Vietnam to remember the most costly single battle fought by Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War, 18 of whom died as a result of the encounter.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appealed to his Vietnamese counterpart late Wednesday to understand Australia's position, Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan told Sky News.

"That message has thankfully hit a chord.

"We will now... be able to conduct a wreath-laying ceremony today in Vietnam and also there will be access given to the Long Tan site to groups of up to 100 at a time," Tehan said.

"This is a welcome change of heart from the Vietnamese government." The Australian and New Zealand ambassadors will lay wreaths along with a representative of the veterans affairs department.

Tehan stressed that Australia was very aware of Vietnamese feelings about the war.

"There was huge loss of life on the Vietnamese side as a result of the Vietnam war, we have always remained sensitive to that." A force of just 108 Australian soldiers held off an assault by around 2,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese fighters at Long Tan on August 18, 1966.

Seventeen Australians were killed in action and 25 wounded, one of whom later died from his injuries while at least 250 Vietnamese fighters perished.

With commemorations marking Long Tan under way in Australia, Tehan said Canberra had gone out of its way to ensure the Vietnam event was low-key.

It appeared the decision to halt the ceremony was based simply on the sensitivities relating to Long Tan, and did not relate to any other aspect of Australia's relationship with Hanoi, Tehan said.

Vietnamese authorities in both Hanoi and southern Ba Ria Vung Tau province, where the battle took place, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.