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APRIL 14, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 14 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Asiaweek Pictures
Then: Cordingley (right) in Saigon

To Our Readers
From our man in Vietnam

In April 1975, when the Vietnam and Cambodian wars were reaching their conclusion, Asiaweek was not yet in publication to record the events. But in important ways the end of the Indochina conflict led to the beginning of this magazine. The founders, T.J.S. George and Michael O'Neill, saw this as a "historically appropriate" time to launch Asiaweek. As they said in our first issue almost 25 years ago, "Peace in Indochina has set off a chain reaction affecting all countries and all walks of life. Yesterday's enemies have become today's partners. Realities have changed and values with them. It is a new Asia, and this is a new magazine to report it."

Roberto R. Romulo, former Philippine foreign secretary, also draws a parallel between the end of the war and the dawn of a new Asian era in the opening essay of our SPECIALREPORTon Indochina 25 years on. In 1975, Romulo writes, "the global balance of power was undergoing one of its great realignments."

The editor of this SPECIALREPORT is Peter Cordingley, the only one of all the journalists currently on the Asiaweek staff to have witnessed the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. At the time Cordingley was a correspondent with the French news agency, Agence France--Presse (AFP). He was posted to South Vietnam in 1974, when North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces had gone on the offensive, mainly in the Central Highlands but also intermittently in the Saigon area. South Vietnamese resistance crumbled spectacularly early in 1975. As town after town tumbled into North Vietnamese hands, Cordingley was the first Western journalist to report details of the March fall of the key Central Highlands center of Pleiku and the ensuing flight of 100,000 people down Highway 7 to the coastal town of Tuy Hoa.

In assembling the words and pictures for this issue, Cordingley remembers the days leading up to the fall of Saigon. In particular, he recalls a young South Vietnamese clerk in the AFP office who confided that she was making him a pair of Viet Cong--style black "pajamas," ready for when the North Vietnamese entered the city. She seemed unusually well informed about military developments, Cordingley remembers. He found out why on the morning of May 1, the day after Saigon was "liberated." The office clerk appeared in the AFP bureau to reveal she was a Viet Cong officer. "I'm not sure if I was surprised or not," Cordingley says. "The sudden routing of the South Vietnamese army had been so surreal, so hard to understand, that anything seemed possible."

In the end, Cordingley registered as a journalist with the new regime, and a few months later was flown out of Saigon to Laos -- in bellbottoms, not pajamas.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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