In early June 1945, Huỳnh Phú Sổ initiated the creation of the Unified National Front, or Mặt Trận Quốc Gia Thống Nhứt. The leader of Hòa Hảo Buddhism gained the support of the Caodaists, the Trotskyists, and the members of the Vietnamese Independence Party.
On August 21, 1945, the Front staged a mass rally in Saigon and some 200,000 people attended the gathering. However, according to Trần Văn Ân, despite its popularity the Front and its leadership failed to come up with any viable tactical course of action.
Notably, the Front leader Hồ Văn Ngà declared that Vietnams independence was their only priority. In order to achieve the countrys true independence the Front was willing to cooperate with all political forces aiming at forming a strong government, Hồ Văn Nga was quoted as saying by the Hưng Việt daily.
In retrospect, it might be argued that Hồ Văn Ngas sincerity was one of the factors which helped the Việt Minh seize power in the South. While the Front stated its openness and readiness to collaborate with all nationalist groups, the Việt Minh launched a massive public relations campaign. The Communists cunningly presented themselves as the only political movement in Vietnam, which was supported by the Allies and was not tainted by cooperation with the Japanese “militarists.”
Subsequently, on August 25, 1945, the Việt Minh announced its Southern government known as the Interim Administrative Committee, or Ủy Ban Hành Chánh Nam Bộ Lâm Thời. The body, also known as Lâm Ủy, was headed by Trần Văn Giàu and included four Communists, four pro-Communist activists and only one independent politician. Members of the Unified National Front were not invited to join Lâm Ủy. Moreover, the Avant-Guarde Youth movement headed by Phạm Ngọc Thạch deserted from the Front and joined the Việt Minh.
It should be pointed out that the Avant-Guarde Youth, or Thanh Niên Tiền Phong, in fact emerged as a by-product of the pro-French Indochinese Juvenile Sports Association, or Tổng Thanh Niên Thể Thao, headed by French Colonel Ducoroy. In the wake of the Japanese coup in March 1945, a consular official Iida took over the movement. On April 15, 1945, the group held a congress and the Avant-Guarde Youth was formed as a patriotic and non-partisan nationalist movement. However, many groups leaders, notably Phạm Ngọc Thạch, Huỳnh Văn Tiểng, Mai Văn Nguyên, Lưu Hữu Phước, and Mai Văn Bộ, eventually turned out to be members of the Communist Party. Subsequently non-Communist leaders of the Avant-Guarde Youth, notably Dr. Hồ Vĩnh Ký and his wife, Dr. Nguyễn Thị Sương, leader of Avant-Guarde Women, were eliminated.
In late August and early September the leaders of the Unified National Front were keen to preserve national unity hence they were reluctant to confront the Việt Minh. The Front leaders believed that any forceful attempts to remove the Communists from positions of power would have amounted to a dangerous struggle for power, while internal conflicts could have negative repercussions for Vietnams emerging independence, notably with a backdrop of upcoming return of the French. Yet the Communists did not see the situation that way. Contrariwise, the Việt Minh consistently pursued its strategic aim of gaining absolute power. This is why the Communists were keen to remove all obstacles by forceful means.
On September 2, the Việt Minh staged an “armed” demonstration in downtown Saigon. Although Trần Văn Giàu described the gathering as a “victory,” the gathering ended in uncontrolled violence against French nationals. Five people, including a respected vicar, Father Tricoire, were killed and 30 people were wounded. As a result, the British mission ordered Japanese General Terauchi to restore order in Saigon. The Japanese military moved seven infantry battalions into Saigon and was ordered to dissolve all Vietnamese paramilitary forces. Subsequently, on September 13, British General Douglas Gracey arrived in Saigon, he refused to recognize Giaus authority. Moreover, on September 21, General Gracey banned all Vietnamese-language newspapers and threatened all mutineers with a court-martial and death penalty. Therefore, the violent demonstration on September 2 turned out to be a diplomatic disaster for Giaus authority in the South.
In early September the Front leaders repeatedly gathered at the private homes of lawyer Huỳnh Văn Phương and Dr. Hồ Vĩnh Kỳ. Notably, one meeting at Hồ Vĩnh Kỳs house was attended by Huỳnh Phú Sổ, Hồ Văn Ngà, activists of Caodaist sectarian groups, Vũ Tam Anh and Lê Kim Tỵ, Phạm Hữu Đức of the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, Nguyễn Văn Hướng of Đại Việt, as well as Dương Văn Giáo and Lâm Ngọc Đường. The meeting stated that the creation of Lâm Ủy amounted to a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the Communists. The Administrative Committee proved to be neither democratic nor coalition-like as it was previously expected. The participants also argued that Trần Văn Giàu, Lâm Ủys head and chief military delegate, in fact, became a Communist style dictator who had seized all civilian and military authority in the south.
Moreover, lawyer Dương Văn Giáo announced that he had compelling evidence that Trần Văn Giàu had been an agent of the French secret police. Dương Văn Giáo argued that the Japanese Kempeitai seized Trần Văn Giàus files at the French police headquarters on Catinat Street in Saigon, while Giáo obtained a copy of these files from Kempeitai agents in Thailand. Another copy of the files came from lawyer Huỳnh Văn Phương, who had been put in charge of the Vietnamese police in the south following the Japanese coup in March. According to these files, the escape of Trần Văn Giàu and Dương Bạch Mai from the French detention camp in Bà Rá in early 1944 was in fact arranged by the French secret police so as to use both Communist activists in anti-Japanese operations.
The Fronts meeting acknowledged that Trần Văn Giàus continued collaboration with the French secret police constituted a direct threat to the nationalist cause in the south. Some overzealous members suggested eliminating the Communist leaders of Lâm Ủy.
Notably, Vũ Tam Anh argued that he knew the Giàus, Dương Bạch Mais and Nguyễn Văn Tạos residence in Saigon and offered to employ his paramilitary unit to arrest the Communists. However, the Front rejected the plan based on violent means and opted to continue negotiations. It should be pointed out that all the Front leaders, who had attended the meeting at Hồ Vĩnh Kỳs house, were eventually murdered by the Communists. Only Vũ Tam Anh escaped, yet he fell victim to Ngô Đình Diệms secret police.
Việt Minh leaders in Hanoi presumably realized that Trần Văn Giàus leadership lacked a popular appeal in the South. A mission headed by Hoàng Quốc Việt and Cao Hồng Lãnh was sent from Hanoi to deal with the situation. On September 4, the Communist envoys met up with the Front leaders at Gia Định College of Arts. The meeting chaired by Huỳnh Phú Sổ tentatively agreed to carry out a reshuffle of Lâm Ủy.
The next meeting took place on September 7 at the Trade Unions headquarters on Lagrandière Street in downtown Saigon. The gathering decided to form the Peoples Committee of the South, or Ủy Ban Nhân Dân Nam Bộ, to replace Lâm Ủy. Former Independence Party activist Phạm Văn Bạch became the Committees chairman, while Trần Văn Giàu was appointed deputy chairman and chief military delegate. However, it has been argued that Phạm Văn Bạch was in fact Trần Văn Giàus protegé.
During this encounter Dr. Hồ Vĩnh Ký overtly accused Trần Văn Giàu of being an agent of the French secret police. Although Huỳnh Phú Sổ was invited to join the Committee, Trần Văn Giàu viewed the Hòa Hảo leader and Hồ Vĩnh Ký as his mortal enemies. Nguyễn Kỳ Nam. Hồi ký. Tập II (1945-1954). NXB Dân Chủ Mới, 1964, pp.78-79.
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