Friday, Oct. 18, 1963

Inviting a Judgment

The U.N. has rarely considered whether Communist dictatorships or leftist "guided democracies" violate human rights. But last week the General Assembly concerned itself with "the violation of human rights" in South Viet Nam, as represented by the Diem government's treatment of the Buddhists. However reprehensible and clumsy the regime's role in the Buddhist crisis may be, many of its accusers were scarcely models of democracy.

The group requesting debate of the issue included Algeria, whose frankly dictatorial government is fighting to put down an insurrection, effectively controls the press, and last week expelled one U.S. and four French newsmen; Indonesia, whose ruler "for life," President Sukarno, runs a nasty little jungle tyranny; and Outer Mongolia, a Communist puppet.

Neutralist Ceylon's Ambassador Sir Senerat Gunewardene, neglecting to note that his own government has nationalized Roman Catholic schools and is forcing out Christian missionaries, charged Catholic President Diem with depriving the Buddhists of "life, liberty and security."

Surprise Move. The Russians happily joined the U.N. fray. But the accused had the best of the argument—for the moment. In a move prepared with U.S. encouragement, South Viet Nam's U.N. observer, Dr. N. P. Buu Hoi, sent a letter to Assembly President Carlos Sosa Rodriguez: "My government has asked me to extend an invitation to the representatives of several member states to visit Viet Nam in the very near future so that they may see for themselves what the real situation is."

Taken by surprise, the Russians made a futile attempt to name as the fact-finding mission the old 1954 Indo-China International Control Commission, which included Poland. But after behind-the-scenes bargaining, the Assembly decided to let Sosa Rodriguez choose the delegation. He appointed to it the U.N. representatives of Afghanistan, Brazil, Ceylon, Costa Rica, Dahomey, Morocco and Nepal. The mission was expected to leave this week.

Act of Treason. Most countries with an internal crisis have usually told the U.N. to stay out. By inviting the U.N. in, Diem shrewdly cut short prolonged discussion of his regime on the Assembly floor, while providing himself with an opportunity to tell his side of the story. What his side is, Diem made clear in an address to the National Assembly. Said he: "In the face of an implacable enemy, any factional solidarity which harms national solidarity is an act of treason."

Even Diem's severest critics in Saigon concede that there was no serious religious persecution until the present troubles began, and that the Buddhist movement has become a political force dedicated to Diem's overthrow. His regime meanwhile freed 125 Buddhists and sympathizers in Hue who were jailed after last August's riots; how many others are still being held is not known.

What does seem clear is that the Buddhists' startlingly efficient tactical and propaganda leadership has been severely hurt. Many of the dissident Buddhists, if they are not in jail, have apparently gone underground. Last week leaflets, signed by something called "The Unified Movement for the Rescue of Buddhism," called for a general strike, date not announced.

Supreme Confidence. Meanwhile, the mean, hard war went on. South Vietnamese casualties for last week were reported at 350, including 70 dead; the Viet Cong's at 400, including 300 dead. But for the fifth week, the Viet Cong captured more weapons than it lost.

One day last week a T-28 fighter-bomber flown by a U.S. Air Force captain and his Vietnamese crewman crashed on a dive-bombing run southwest of Danang, near the Laotian border. When two UH-34 Marine helicopters, carrying a search-and-rescue party, fluttered into the guerrilla-infested area, both choppers crashed. The craft lay 1,000 yds. apart, one in a river, the other across a ridge in the jungle; whether they were shot down was not clear. Braving heavy guerrilla fire that injured three more marines and killed another Vietnamese crewman, more rescuers reached the scene, found all twelve men aboard the helicopters dead, and recovered their bodies. The disaster brought to 118 the number of Americans killed in Viet Nam.

In his National Assembly address, Diem professed supreme confidence about the war. He claimed that of 11,864 projected strategic hamlets, 8,600 have already been built and 10.5 million peasants grouped in them. He implicitly conceded U.S. criticism that the hamlets may be being built too fast for best results, but he argued that there is no other way. In a warning to the U.S., which is trimming nonmilitary aid to Diem in an effort to pressure him into liberalizing his rule, Diem said that despite the Sino-Soviet split Red China is intensifying "its aggressive and expansionist policy in Asia."