A constant influx of men, money and materiel quickly established the Binh Xuyen as a well-armed, disciplined force of approximately 10, men. In , the Binh Xuyen leaders—the most renowned of these were: Impressed by this demonstration of efficiency, Tran Van Giau, the Viet Minh military commander, presented Vien with a list of persons to assassinate.
Vien, shocked by the lengths to which the Communists were willing to go to consolidate their position, refused to carry out the assassinations.
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At this time Vien refused to allow his 1, armed men to be incorporated into the Viet Minh forces. Annoyed by the separatist tendencies of the Binh Xuyen, the Viet Minh, under the new commander Nguyen Binh, sought to eliminate, by means of "suicide squads," members of the group who eluded their control. Nguyen Binh was intent on dissolving this group and reducing the power of Le Van Vien, while the latter remained on his guard against the Viet Minh as well as the French Expeditionary Corps.
Lured by a promise of promotion within the Viet Minh, Le Van Vien, after much hesitation, accepted an invitation from the Nam Bo to go to the Plaine des Joncs for official acceptance of his new position. All went well until Vien learned that some of his troops east of the Soi Rap River had been disarmed on Nguyen Binh's orders. The latter reassured Vien of his intentions, while making certain that Vien would be detained and his escort eliminated.
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Sensing a shift in the political tide, Bay Vien siezed the opportunity to consolidate his hold on the Binh Xuyen and achieve dominance. Vien escaped from the Viet Minh and on June 10 reached Bien Hoa, where he discovered that his fief was occupied by Viet Minh forces and he could not return. Without delay, Vien sent two envoys to French Intelligence with a letter containing two requests: In return, he agreed to accept the French conditions to "rally"—e. The first request was granted and the second was to be discussed on Vien's arrival on the scene for the proposed negotiations.
After several conferences, Vien agreed to rally to the side of the Bao Dai Government and to recognize the French Union.
On June 17, Vien proclaimed himself violently anti-Communist, and a few days later regained control of Cholon as well as his fief. The French had given official recognition to the Binh Xuyen and granted it independent control of the region. Vien began to enter politics and was soon well known around Saigon. His troops were situated along the roads leading from the capital, where they collected "road safety taxes" on cars and buses and from farmers bringing produce to market.
The French government announced that it " United States observers of the process laconically refer to the Binh Xuyen in this era as a: For the French, this free hand given to the Binh Xuyen proved to be profitable in more ways than one. Thus, the Viet Minh was unable to conduct a single terror bombing in Saigon between and What's more, the Binh Xuyen offered a solution to a problem which had recently beset French intelligence.
In order to guarantee the loyalty of the Highland populations, the GCMA had to buy their only cash crop: Since the colonial administration had abolished its own Opium Monopoly in , the Binh Xuyen provided an obvious outlet.
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The Binh Xuyen controlled Saigon until purged by the Diem government in , when Vien fled to France with many of the Binh Xuyen leadership and apparently many of the Saigon police files! At its height, the Binh Xuyen was believed to have around 25, armed troops. In , Le Van Vien headed a consortium which bought control of two of Asia's largest gambling and prostitution concessions—the "Grand Monde" in Cholon and the "Cloche d'Or" in Saigon—and Vien assumed the position of director of the establishments. Lacking a special ideology, the Binh Xuyen was a target for Communist recruitment efforts; to compensate for this, Vien became fanatically anti-Communist in his activities.
In , when Viet Minh bombs rocked Saigon nightly, Cholon, policed by the Binh Xuyen who were paid by the wealthy Chinese , remained quiet. In an effort to stabilize Saigon, the French granted permission to the Binh Xuyen to police the capital; the Binh Xuyen cleared the terrorists out of Saigon. In February , Binh Xuyen military activities received an additional boost when Vien was authorized to form a battalion of troops to police the Long Thanh highway from Saigon to the coast.
In addition, the Binh Xuyen were allowed to occupy three posts on the Saigon River to ensure the safe flow of traffic along this important artery. On July 3, , the French made a "solemn declaration" of their willingness to complete the independence of Vietnam by transferring to the Vietnamese Government under Bao Dai the functions hitherto under French control.
In return, the declaration invited the Vietnamese Government to settle its claims in the economic, financial, judicial, military, and political spheres. The Vietnamese nationalists, dissatisfied with Bao Dai's conduct of affairs, realized that the negotiations would be completed without regard for their wishes. Although divided by personal rivalries, they sought a means of demonstrating the importance of their claims.
Ngo Dinh Nhu seized this opportunity to form an unofficial front of national union to support his brother Ngo Dinh Diem as candidate for the premiership and to demonstrate the desire of the Vietnamese to have a voice in the direction of national affairs. The leaders of the religious sects and the Binh Xuyen gave their support to the plan, and Le Van Vien was persuaded to offer his headquarters as the site for the congress. On September 5, a national congress in support of "national union and peace" met in semi-clandestine fashion. When the discussions turned to violent indictments of the French authorities and Bao Dai, Le Van Vien ordered his troops to clear the hall.
The religious sect leaders attempted to quell the ensuing scandal by assuring Bao Dai of their loyalty. To erase the impression of popular discontent created by the September congress and to ensure his claim to represent the Vietnamese nationalists in negotiations with the French Government, Bao Dai summoned an official National Congress on October 1, The Binh Xuyen reached the peak of its career at this time: The delegates were instructed to make known to Bao Dai the desires of the Vietnamese people concerning future relations with France "within the framework of the French Union" and to appoint members to assist him in the negotiations.
Instead, the National Congress unanimously approved a motion which was later amended in support of total independence for Vietnam.
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The following April, a member of the Binh Xuyen Lai Huu Sang was appointed director-general of the Saigon-Cholon police and security services—presumably the price for Binh Xuyen allegiance to the Government. The group, then in charge of public security, was officially obligated to combat—but in reality protected—activities on which its own power was founded Thus by the end of the Indochina War, the Binh Xuyen, which had gained a following estimated between 5, and 8,, maintained semi-autonomous fiefs to the south and southeast of Cholon, controlled the Saigon-Cholon police, ran lucrative gambling and prostitution establishments, and controlled the opium trade, much of the fish and charcoal commerce, and several hotels and plantations.
Charged with the task of unifying southern Vietnam, Diem realized he had to break the power of the sects and the Binh Xuyen, whose interests conflicted with his own. He had two alternatives: In either case, he needed a strong loyal army. The Army Chief of Staff at the time was Gen. Nguyen Van Hinh, a French citizen, whom Diem suspected of conspiring against him. On September 11, , Diem demanded Hinh's resignation, initiating a 7-week army crisis.
Hinh refused to accede to Diem's order and barricaded himself in his headquarters. Fear of a coup d'etat or an attempt on his life forced Diem to withdraw to his palace. Ironically, Diem's guards were under the control of the Binh Xuyen, of whom he strongly disapproved because of its affiliation with gambling and prostitution.
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The Binh Xuyen, however, were willing to defend Diem, at least temporarily, for two reasons: When the Binh Xuyen gained control of the police, many security investigators joined the Vietnamese National Army. During the crisis, Diem's administrative power was reduced to impotence when Hinh demonstrated the strength of his position by ordering troops to patrol the capital. It was evident in the beginning that Hinh could execute a coup d'etat with considerable ease, but he showed reluctance to do so and instead sought to temporize.
In a manifesto dated September 16, the sects and the Binh Xuyen officially dissociated themselves from Diem and declared the need for a democratic government, liberation of the country from foreign domination and enactment of measures to eliminate poverty and illiteracy. In order to appease Hinh, Diem appointed Gen. Pleased with the appointment, Hinh agreed not to take action and asked Bao Dai to arbitrate the disagreement between the sects, the Binh Xuyen, and Diem. Embassy now intervened in Diem's favor and warned Hinh that a military coup d'etat would result in the halting of economic and military aid.
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