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Diem says South Vietnam not bound by Geneva Agreements

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem declares in a broadcast that since South Vietnam had not signed the Geneva Agreements, South Vietnam was not bound by them. Although Diem did not reject the “principle of elections,” he said that any proposals from the communist Viet Minh were out of the question “if proof is not given us that they put the higher interest of the national community above those of communism.”

The Geneva Conference had begun on April 26, 1954, to negotiate an end to the First Indochina War between the French and the Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh. The negotiations resulted in the signing of a truce on July 20. The agreement fixed a provisional demarcation line roughly along the 17th parallel (which would eventually be called the Demilitarized Zone), pending countrywide elections to be held in July 1956. It also allowed the evacuation of French forces north of that line, and Viet Minh forces south of it. Freedom of movement from either zone was allowed for 300 days, and restrictions were imposed on future military alliances. An International Control Commission was formed with representatives from India, Canada, and Poland to supervise implementation of the agreement, including the scheduled elections. The whole package of agreements became known as the Geneva Accords.

The agreement was reached over the objections of South Vietnam, which refused to sign it. Likewise, the United States did not concur with the accords, but pledged that it would refrain from use of force or the threat of force to disturb their provisions. However, United States representatives declared that the U.S. would look upon renewed aggression in violation of the agreement “with grave concern.”

The Geneva Accords ended the war between the French and Viet Minh, but set the stage for renewed conflict. When Diem, realizing the strength of Ho Chi Minh’s support in South Vietnam, blocked the elections that were called for in the accords, the United States, citing alleged North Vietnamese truce violation, supported him. No longer able to use the elections as a means to reunify Vietnam, the communists turned to force of arms to defeat South Vietnam. This war lasted until 1975, when the North Vietnamese launched their final offensive. South Vietnam, no longer supported by the United States, which had departed in 1973, fell to the communists in 55 days.

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