SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's Malcolm Turnbull Friday (Aug 19) said he was "very disappointed" that hundreds of Vietnam war veterans were unable to attend 50th anniversary commemorations at a key battle site after plans were changed at the last minute.
More than 1,000 Vietnam war veterans and their families had travelled from Australia to the Southeast Asian nation to attend a ceremony on Thursday, only for the Vietnamese government to cancel the event the day before.
Prime Minister Turnbull, who spent an hour speaking to his Vietnamese counterpart on the issue, said the initial ban was later reversed but in the end only 700 veterans had been allowed access to the site on Thursday.
"We're very disappointed that not all of the Australian veterans and their families were able to go to the Long Tan complex," he told Fairfax Radio.
"What happened was that about 700 Australian and New Zealand veterans did attend the Long Tan area... (to) reverently commemorate that battle." Long Tan was the most costly single battle fought by Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War.
Turnbull said Australia understood that the conflict was "a very sensitive issue in Vietnam".
"We respect the right of the Vietnamese government to determine what ceremonies and observances are held in their country, but to change the rules literally the day before was very unreasonable," he said.
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.
Eighteen Australians died in action and 24 were wounded while at least 250 Vietnamese fighters perished.
Australia has said the 50th anniversary plans had been under way with Vietnam for 18 months and Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan described the abrupt cancellation of events as "a kick in the guts".
Australia's Foreign Ministry said that Vietnamese authorities would allow further access to the Long Tan Cross site on Friday with strict conditions.