243. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

3246. For the President. The bombing of the Embassy on March 30 was the dominating event of the week. The local press, and many Vietnamese privately, expressed indignation and outrage at this act of terrorism. While the bombing brought home once again that the Viet Cong can strike in the heart of Saigon, it did not seem to dampen the improved morale of the Vietnamese. American community is entirely unshaken.

In the meantime, Quat and his colleagues have continued to move ahead with concrete constructive measures in the political field. The week witnessed:

An announcement by the National Legislative Council that a National Congress should be convened to take up the urgent task of drawing up a permanent constitution, and that the Congress should be based on direct universal suffrage organized in secure zones.
The opening of a press congress to develop a statute governing the conduct of the local press.
Indications from the government that it would hold elections early next month for city and municipal councils.
An announcement by the government that it is 1) establishing an Embassy in Addis Ababa, with an information center to serve all of Africa; 2) dispatching a delegation headed by Vice Premier Tuyen, to visit key African capitals; and 3) opening competition to fill 20 vacancies in the Vietnamese Diplomatic and Consular Service.
An announcement that Quat will reserve Thursday afternoons to meet with members of the public.

Another interesting development, but one on which we still have only tentative and fragmentary information, has been the emergence of signs of Buddhist protests against Viet Cong depredations against Buddhist monks and pagodas. We understand that the Buddhist Institute has instructed pagodas to pray for a Buddhist monk in Binh Dinh Province who reportedly burned himself to death in protest against such Viet Cong actions. The Buddhist Institute also held a memorial service for the American and Vietnamese victims of the Embassy bombing. These are heartening, if still isolated, signs of an improved attitude in Buddhist ranks.

In the military field, the Viet Cong continued to lie low, their activities reaching a level even lower than that recorded during the lunar festival period of early February. In spite of their inertia, they took heavy losses in engagements with the government forces in which the friendly [Page 541] total killed in action amounted to 189 against 795 Viet Cong dead. The enemy also lost 80 captured and over 200 weapons. While this is good news, we still have the uneasy feeling that the Viet Cong may be preparing unpleasant surprises for us. During the week, we acquired reasonably clear evidence that elements of the North Vietnamese 325th division have been in South Viet-Nam since February. The presence of one battalion is confirmed and it is possible all three regiments are operating in the central provinces. We are pressing all intelligence agencies to determine what the Viet Cong are up to.

Reports of improved morale are now coming in from the provinces, indicating that the rise in confidence noted in urban centers is beginning to spread to the countryside. While more indications will be needed to establish the extent of the trend, this is the first time in months that we have had such encouraging reports on provincial morale.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis.