In retrospect, it became obvious that despite Huỳnh Phú Sổs sincere desire to achieve a reconciliation of the anti-French forces, the Việt Minh had a pre-arranged plan. The attitudes of Trần Văn Nguyên and Bửu Vinh suggested that both were part of the plan and knew in advance what was going to happen on April 16, 1947.
Moreover, on April 21 the Việt Minh issued a formal order to renew reprisals against the Hòa Hảo followers and activists of the Social-Democratic Party. The instruction, signed by Trần Văn Nguyên and security chief Kiều Tấn Lập, suggested the immediate arrest of all Hòa Hảo religious and military leaders as well as the Social-Democratic Party officials. Việt Minh forces were also ordered “to mobilize” in Long Xuyên, Châu Đốc, Cần Thơ and Sa Đéc areas, disarm the activists of the Social-Democratic Party, “secretely arrest anybody suspected of the opposition” and “punish them without trial.”
Following this order, Việt Minh troops launched a massive campaign of violence against Hòa Hảo followers throughout the Mekong Delta. Eyewitnesses indicated that thousands of adherents perished. Notably, Hồng Văn Hoạnh, a Tân Châu dweller back in 1947, told me in an interview that in the wake of the Việt Minh retreat from the Phú An-Phú Lâm area, several mass graves were unearthed there. Local Hòa Hảo committees estimated the number of indiscriminately killed people at roughly 10,000, while some victims were reportedly buried alive. Mass graves were also reported in Tân Thành and Cải Cái areas.
Although the Hòa Hảo Self-Defense forces included tens of thousand of young followers, only an estimated five percent of them had firearms, while the rest were armed with pikes, sticks and blades. Therefore, the Việt Minh forces had at least five-to-one superiority over the Bảo An in terms of armed soldiers.
Not surprisingly, poorly armed Hòa Hảo Self-Defense forces were unable to defend the adepts. According to the recollections of the Hòa Hảo followers, in April 1947 Việt Minh armed units assaulted defenseless Hòa Hảo hamlets and villages. The Communists troops leveled all the houses with Hòa Hảo altars and summarily executed all of its inhabitants.
The 18th regiment of the Việt Minh forces launched a massive assault against Hòa Hảo village. The regiment commander Xuyến reportedly vowed to flatten the Hòa Hảo Holy Land. Although the Hòa Hảo followers were poorly armed, they fiercely resisted the Communist onslaught. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and the 18th regiment had to retreat after all.
In the meantime, adepts from remote Hòa Hảo communities fled the Communist reprisals en masse. As a result hundreds of thousand people arrived in the secure areas controlled by Hòa Hảo troops.