69. Telegram From the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) to the Department of State1

4042. Re Embtel 4038 rptd Paris 1070.2 Significant and disquieting feature of sect declaration and motion (resolution) of March 21 is open association with united front of Generals Phuong and Trinh Minh The who have now signed both documents. For first time united front has managed to gain public adherence almost all significant elements sect groups. Only omissions of note are names of Hoa Hao dissidents General Nguyen Giac Ngo and Hoa Hao Colonel Hue.

Second significant feature of sect declaration is that time limit of five days is fixed for Diem to accede to sect demands and to set up new government which must meet approval of sects.

In conversations with Gambiez, De Rougement, and Wintrebert (Acting French High Commissioner to Vietnam) we have made following preliminary observations: Key to situation is Binh Xuyen leader Bay Vien, who is most intelligent, ruthless and aggressive of leaders. Although Binh Xuyen sect does not have large population base, it has certain armed forces strategically located in and about Saigon–Cholon and retains control police and security forces. Bay Vien’s steadfast desire to obtain control of Interior Ministry, and with it internal administrative machinery of country, has long been known. His views in present development have not yet been clearly determined but it is believed that his price remains approximately the same.

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We believe that sects will for the time continue confine their activities to political sphere, but it is possible they have in mind attempting apply economic pressure to Diem government after expiration 5-day period by attempting impede movement food supplies from and through sect-held areas to Saigon. Gambiez has told me that should sects attempt institute economic blockade French, who still retain responsibility ultimate security Saigon–Cholon, will take action to prevent this. I suggested that he make this clear to both Diem and to sects and he agreed to do so. This should be element of comfort to Diem and should weigh heavily as deterring factor to such action by sects.

There is general belief that sects, having gone so far as to make demands on Diem in form of classic “ultimatum”, will feel obliged take some actions within city itself. This would most likely be fomenting civil demonstrations against Diem government. Diem’s brother Luyen has told Wintrebert that in such event Diem would attempt break up demonstrations, using two parachute battalions and one armored squadron at his disposal. Oriental psychology is such that Diem cannot allow demonstrations be “successful”, meaning unopposed, and therefore must take action stop them.

Diem’s first reaction to sect demands, according Wintrebert who saw him evening 21st, was one of discouragement and depression. Wintrebert says Diem was particularly struck by defection Trinh Minh The upon whom Prime Minister appears to have been counting heavily (and to whom he has been liberally providing funds). Diem told Wintrebert, as he had on previous occasion, that Trinh Minh The was going along with sects only “to keep an eye on them”, but Wintrebert says this time Diem himself seemed unconvinced by his own explanation.

In summary: (a) Adherence of Phuong and Trinh Minh The to “United Front” greatly weakens Diem’s position and adds strength to that of sects. (b) Sects will likely continue pressure on political plane for next few days but incidents may be expected in sect areas as well as possible attempts at civil demonstrations within Saigon. (c) Possible attempt at economic blockade Saigon should be deterred by knowledge French will take action against such program. (d) While they will go to great lengths to avoid situation involving bloodshed or in which they will find themselves having take action against Vietnamese, French acknowledge ultimate responsibility preservation order within Saigon–Cholon. (e) Diem cannot bow to demands of sects and accept their terms. Any government based on temporary and tenuous grouping of sects could scarcely be expected long endure, nor would it merit US support and confidence. (f) Diem’s [Page 142] only immediate course of action would appear to be to decline demands of sects but enter negotiations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/3–2255. Secret; Priority. Repeated for information to Paris.
  2. In this telegram, March 22, Collins summarized the text of the sects’ declaration and resolution issued March 21, which constituted an ultimatum to Diem to replace his cabinet with one approved by the United Front of the sects. (ibid.)