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Indochina POWs Unmask French Professor as Viet Communist Ally

March 13, 1991

PARIS (AP) _ Decades after leaving Ho Chi Minh’s prison camps as little more than rag- clad skeletons, former French POWs have accused a respected history professor of being a traitor who humiliated and brainwashed them.

The furor over Georges Boudarel, 64, reopened old wounds from an ill-fated conflict in Indochina that France, like the United States, would rather forget.

On Feb. 13, Boudarel, an Asia specialist, was attending an academic symposium at the French Senate on the future of Vietnam. Suddenly, from the audience sprang Jean-Jacques Beucler, 68, a former secretary of state for veterans. He seized a microphone and asked an astonished Boudarel:

″Were you in Indochina between 1950 and 1954? Did you desert to join the Viet Minh? Did you inflict punishment at Camp 113?″ Boudarel blushed and denied the charges. Heckled by Indochina veterans in the audience, he waited until they had left the room to give his planned speech.

In interviews later, Boudarel admitted ″teaching political courses″ at Camp 113. He denied physically torturing prisoners, but admitted he had refused to give dying prisoners medicine parachuted by the Red Cross, insisting the Vietnamese should have it first.

He told the newspaper Le Monde he regretted having been a Stalinist and had begun distancing himself from the Communist Party in 1956, after major purges in the Soviet Union.

To the 500 or so prisoners who passed through Camp 113 the year before the Indochina war ended for France in 1954, Boudarel was known as Dai Dong.

A high school teacher and son of a prosperous colonial family, he joined the Viet Minh - Ho Chi Minh’s guerrilla army - in 1950, living in the jungle with the guerrillas and monitoring French radio traffic.

Former POWs say that from 1953-54, he served as the ″political education cadre″ at Camp 113, a filthy collection of huts in the Mien Nguoc region of northern Vietnam.

Camp survivors say Boudarel was in charge of humiliating self-criticism sessions designed to break their will and encourage them to spy on and denounce fellow captives.

″He was an ideologue drugged with Marxism,″ former prisoner Claude Bayle told the newsmagazine Le Nouvel Observateur. ″He was more Vietnamese than the Vietnamese.″

Bayle recounted an incident that he claimed typified Boudarel’s treatment of prisoners weakened by malnutrition, dysentery and physical torture.

In November 1953, Bayle said, camp authorities freed 80 men, including himself. Boudarel escorted them to the closest French post, 10 days away. The men marched barefoot.

″At the end of a few days, Boudarel brought us all together,″ Bayle said. ″One of us had stolen an egg in a village. Boudarel forced us to denounce him, judge him and return him to 113.

″We were so obsessed by our liberation that we no longer took any account of friendship. It’s unthinkable what had become of us.″

Boudarel conceded in the Le Monde interview, ″My punishment against an egg-thief was ... excessive,″ but he said the Communists in the village ″created an uproar ... The Vietnamese themselves were starving to death.″

The Viet Minh took 37,000 French prisoners in the 1945-54 Indochina war. About 60 percent died. Only 2,000 survivors remain alive.

Boudarel remained in Vietnam after the war. France condemned him to death as a deserter, though he never belonged to the armed forces. He benefited from a general amnesty in 1966 and came to France the following year.

He took up academic life, becoming a prominent historian in Asian studies at the University of Paris.

The former prisoners of Camp 113 never knew what had happened to him, but a retired colonel tried to track him down.

In 1986, on his death bed, the colonel demanded that his friend Beucler pursue the hunt. He did. It culminated in last month’s denunciation.

University officials refuse to speak about Bouradel’s case.

Boudarel told Le Monde he hopes to make peace with the former Camp 113 inmates, 37 years after the war ended.

″It’s absolutely necessary that I meet all the survivors of Camp 113, even if the welcome, I’m sure, won’t be warm,″ the professor said.