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His Return to Vietnam Crosses a Line

Former South Vietnam premier travels home, riling anticommunists in Little Saigon.

January 09, 2004|Mai Tran and Mike Anton | Times Staff Writers

"It's a place where he was born," said Nguyen, a popular entertainer in the Vietnamese-American community. "In the last 30 years, he's not been [politically] active at all. He's going back in his private capacity, and he should have a right to do so without anyone getting upset. Everyone else is doing it."

Indeed, last year nearly 100,000 visas were issued to Vietnamese Americans for travel to Vietnam, down from levels before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but still up significantly since 1997, according to the Vietnamese embassy. In 2002, Vietnamese Americans sent more than $1 billion to family members back home, twice as much as in 1999.

"Vietnam welcomes any compatriots who wish to contribute to the national cause," said Chien Ngoc Bach, an embassy spokesman.

Meaning, in Ky's case, pumping dollars into the nation through tourism.

"The visit by Mr. Ky signifies a universal trend of reconciliation, of making peace," Bach said. "There's no more hard feelings, or we would not have allowed him back."



Nguyen Cao Ky

Sept. 8, 1930: Born in Son Tay, North Vietnam.

1945 to early '60s: Joins the South Vietnamese Air Force after being trained by the French; holds several command positions.

1963: Named air force commander after the overthrow of the Ngo Dinh Diem government.

1965: Is part of a triumvirate that helps lead a military coup that unseats the government of Phan Huy Quat. Ky is named premier.

1967: Ky is elected vice president. One of his coup partners, Nguyen Van Thieu, is elected president.

1971: Ky tries to oppose Thieu for the presidency but is forced to remove himself as a candidate. Returns to the air force.

1975: Flees to the United States after South Vietnam falls.

1976: Publishes 'Twenty Years and Twenty Days.' Lectures at various universities.

Late 1970s: Owns and operates liquor stores in Southern California.

Late 1980s: Runs Southern Gulf Seafood Processors Inc. in Dulac, La., near New Orleans.

2002: Publishes 'Buddha's Child.'

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica; Times reports

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