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DMZ Quang Tri

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Quang Tri is a province in the North Central Coast of Vietnam, next to the former capital of Hue. This is where the southernmost Chinese commandery of Rinan was centred during the Later Han dynasty (25-220 CE).

History

Quang Tri was the northernmost province of the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Around 1964, the province became a center for American bases. In 1966, North Vietnamese forces began occupying the northern region heading their way deeper into the province. In the War in the Northern Provinces, Lieutenant General Willard Pearson writes that the Communists were moving into Quang Tri from the north and west.

The U.S. Marines, U.S. Army, and the South Vietnamese were pushing north and west from the coast, thus “a major clash seemed inevitable.” After the Battle of Khe Sanh (1968), the North Vietnamese moved further in to take the entire province. Offensives were issued, bases left by retreating Americans, and bridges (such as the one in Dong Ha) were destroyed.The most notable achievement of the North Vietnamese offensive in 1972 was capturing Quang Tri. With the incapability of holding its stand against General Vo Nguyen Giap's (commander of the North Vietnamese Army) Nguyen Hue Offensive, the province ultimately fell under the hands of the Communists where the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist after the end of the Vietnam War.

After Quang Tri fell, the North Vietnamese Provisional Revolutionary Government laid their authority over the province. Collective farms were set up and strict rules instilled by the Viet Cong were forced on the villagers, many of whom eventually fled. According to Gary D. Murfin, one of the lead writers to have done a survey on Vietnamese refugees after 1975, the province was an area of particularly dense Catholic concentration, many of whom were anti- communist. He estimated that 41% fled the area in fear of Viet Cong reprisals, 37% feared fighting, shelling, and bombing, and others fled because they were a family related to a Nationalist soldier, or were at one-point landowners.Its capital is Dong Ha. Another notable city is Quang Tri.In 2000, Clear Path International (CPI) was still working to remove unexploded ordnance left by the United States in Quang Tri Province. This was at the time the largest unexploded ordnance removal effort by an NGO in Vietnam's history. CPI continues to operate in Quang Tri, providing victim assistance to those injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). In 2006, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) continues to operate in Quang Tri (and neighboring Quang Binh) province, providing the only civilian staffed demining and UXO clearance operations in Vietnam.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

In 1954, Ho Chi Minh’s government in the north and the French colonial administration in the south agreed an armistice that involved a ‘temporary’ partition of Vietnam. The Ben Hai River, in the extreme north of Quang Tri province, became the arbitrary line dividing the two halves of the country. When the southern ‘government’, backed by the US, reneged on the national elections promised in the agreement, Quang Tri became the theatre where most of the important scenes of the Vietnam War were staged.

From then until the early seventies when the Vietnamese army overwhelmed the defenses along the southern edge of the DMZ, Quang Tri was a battlefield, one of the most intensively bombed areas in military history. It left a barren desert created by hundreds of thousands of tons of high explosive, estimated to be the equivalent of seven Hiroshima atom bombs, as well as napalm, phosphorous and herbicide.

Today, nature has reclaimed much of the land, but craters are visible almost everywhere in the area. It has been estimated that nearly a third of the ordnance failed to explode. Clearance is continuous, but there are still enough live landmines, bombs and shells to add to the tens of thousands of children and adults killed or maimed by unexploded ordnance since 1975. The numbers are dropping, but incidents of death or injury among local people are reported almost every week. Accidents affect children walking to and from school or the market who mistake grenades for toys, farmers ploughing or planting crops, building workers digging wells or laying foundations, and poor peasants attempting to dismantle a bomb or shell to sell the scrap metal for a small amount of cash.

The main sites and paths are now free of danger, but venturing off the beaten track is unwise unless you’re accompanied by a professional tour guide. If you travel with TUN Travel Vietnam, you’ll have an expert local guide who will not only have intimate knowledge of the area, but will also keep you away from unsafe locations. Apart from war memorabilia, little remains of the pre-war towns and villages. Nevertheless, there are a couple places of interest beyond those directly linked to the war. Quang Tri town, once an important citadel town and the provincial capital, is mostly an evocative ruin.

There are a few remains of the citadel, built in 1824 by King Minh Mang, but not much else. On the other hand, Dong Ha, the present provincial capital, has flourished. It has a large deep-water port, a direct route to Laos via the Lao Bao border gate 80kn to the west, and is likely to be an important hub on the planned trans-Asia highway. It has some hotels in Quang Tri and is a good center from which to explore the DMZ in depth. Near the Laos border, Huong Hoa is an unremarkable small town in the foothills of the Annamite mountains. Formerly known as Khe Sanh, it’s known for the coffee produced from plantations developed by the French. The interest for our visitors is a German project linking Kraft Foods Germany and the Dutch ‘Douwe Egberts’ coffee company with a Vietnamese Arabica coffee producer to develop high quality coffee without exploiting the farmers or damaging the environment. A sizable proportion of Huong Hoa’s population is poor Bru Van Kieu ethnic minority people – you’ll probably meet women smoking long-stemmed pipes.

Stop on The Way

The Ben Hai River and the Hien Luong bridge would also feature. The river runs about 100km from its source to the sea, but was catapulted onto the international stage when the 1954 Geneva Convention designated it as the demarcation line between the communist North Vietnam and the South (not the ‘17th Parallel’ often mentioned in guide books). Hien Luong was a steel bridge built by French sappers in 1950: previously, the only means of crossing the river was by boat. When Vietnam was partitioned, the northern half was painted red, and the southern yellow. The bridge was bombed to destruction by the US in 1970 – a pyrrhic victory as nearly all the troops, supplies and weapons used the heavily disguised Ho Chi Minh Trail, not the exposed coastal route.

There’s no point in visiting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as there’s nothing to see – the whole point was that it should be as invisible as possible. However, much of the route is being reincarnated as the Truong Son Road, a new highway in the west linking the two major cities designed to alleviate the pressure on Highway 1. The Truong Son National Cemetery is another possible element. It’s built on several low-lying hills in Truong Son village, a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers who died keeping the Ho Chi Minh Trail open. The history of the trail beggars the imagination – the cemetery commemorates the thousands of men and women who kept the link open throughout the war – engineers, gunners, medical personnel, and a small army of young volunteers, some little more than children, who worked ceaselessly each night to fill in the craters caused by incessant bombing during the day.

The only place to the north of the Ben Hai River that we visit is Vinh Moc. In June 1965, after heavy bombardments, the people of Vinh Moc village began digging shelters beneath their houses to link them to the neighbors thus creating a web of tunnels. Everything was carefully planned to provide access to underground public facilities, such as meeting rooms, a school, and a clinic where seventeen babies were born. Less sophisticated (but more authentic) than the more famous Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon, and built for different purposes, the Vinh Moc passages and chambers are a poignant example of the ingenuity of the ordinary Vietnamese people in coping with life in the epicenter of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts.

Source: Visa for Vietnam

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