Vietnam celebrates 70 years since Dien Bien Phu battle that ended French colonial rule

Soldiers participate in a parade commemorating the victory of Dien Bien Phu battle in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Vietnam is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, where the French army was defeated by Vietnamese troops, ending the French colonial rule in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

DIEN BIEN PHU, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam on Tuesday celebrated the 70th anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu in which the French colonial army was defeated by Vietnamese troops, marking the end of the French occupation of Indochina.

At Dien Bien Phu, Vietnamese troops led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, surprised French forces with heavy artillery fire at their mountainous garrison in northwestern Vietnam.

When Dien Bien Phu fell in 1954, it spelled the end of almost a century of French colonial rule.

“The historic Dien Bien Phu victory is a remarkable event, not only for the Vietnamese revolution,” Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said in a speech at the ceremony. “It is also a monumental saga that inspired countries rising up to fight for independence and freedom, marking the collapse of the colonialism all over the world.”

On Tuesday morning, the commemoration was held at a stadium in the center of Dien Bien Phu, once a valley dense with trenches, barbed wires and bomb craters. It is now a city of more than 80,000 people.

Thousands of locals and veterans with chests full of medals, most of them in their 90s, cheered and waved Vietnamese flags as the military parade marched by under a brief tropical shower.

One of the veterans, Nguyen Trung Dung, 94, said the event was a good opportunity for him to meet up with his friends, those he fought alongside in the Dien Bien Phu battle.

Also in attendance was French Defense Minister Sebastian Lecornu, the first time such a high ranking French official visited the former battlefield and attended the commemorations in Dien Bien Phu.

A day earlier, Lecornu visited several wartime relics, including the preserved bunker of Commander General Christian de Castries.

The bunker, now reinforced with cement and covered with a roof, is the location where de Castries surrendered, ending the fierce battle of nearly two months.

As time passes, relations between Vietnam and its former colonial power also evolved.

“When we were fighting, we were enemies. But now, we shake hands with them,” said another 94-year-old veteran, Pham Duc Cu, who commanded an artillery company during the battle.

“Together we unite to build a world of peace and happiness and no war,” Cu added.