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Nguyen Cao Ky, former leader of South Vietnam, dies aged 80

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ky (left) with U.S President Lyndon Johnson in 1966
Image: White House.

Nguyen Cao Ky, the former Prime Minister of South Vietnam has died at the age of 80 in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia. His death was announced by his nephew who said he died in a hospital while being treated for a respiratory infection. Ky, who was the commander of the South Vietnamese Air Force became the Prime Minister in 1965.

When Ky was born, Vietnam was under French colonial rule. He joined the Communist resistance at the age of 16 but was later sent abroad by the French controlled government to train as a pilot. He never saw any military combat. After the French were defeated and the country was divided in 1954, Ky fled south and joined the South Vietnamese Air Force, backed by the Americans.

In 1965, at the age of 34, Ky became the Prime Minister of South Vietnam. He held the post up until 1967 when he became Vice President under Nguyen Van Thieu. When Communist troops began to attack Saigon, Ky fled to an American Naval ship and moved to the United States in 1975.

While in America, he opened up his own liquor store. After being accused of corruption back in his home country he spoke out saying “If I had stolen millions of dollars I could live like a king in this country, but obviously I don’t live like a king.” He later said in his book, “When a former national leader becomes a storekeeper, it is news.”

In 2004 he returned to the spotlight when, at the offer of the Communist government he became the highest-ranking former South Vietnamese official to return to the country.

Many Vietnamese-born people who fled to America around the same time as Ky have spoke about his death. Political activist Ky Ngo remarked "The overwhelming thought in the community was he was a traitor and most Vietnamese did not trust him. Anyone can go back to the homeland, that's fine, but when you go and openly support the communist movement and criticize the former South Vietnam's government, you lose respect."

Van Tran, a member of the California legislature, said "From a political standpoint, he represented parts of the Vietnam War at its height. With his passing, that era goes with him as well. Many leaders of the South Vietnamese government have passed on, and it's basically the wheel of time turning — that page of history is turning to another generation."


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