The forgotten memory of the Moroccans who fought alongside the French army in Indochina

Heba Press / Agencies

Between 1947 and 1954, more than 120,000 people from the Arab countries of North Africa, half of them from Morocco, joined the ranks of the French army in Indochina.

Between 1947 and 1954, more than 120,000 people from the Arab countries of North Africa, half of them from Morocco, joined the ranks of the French army in Indochina.
Tens of thousands of people from the Arab countries of North Africa fought for France in Indochina. While the majority left after the war, some began a new life in Vietnam, where their descendants today defend their forgotten memory.

Le Tuan Binh (64 years old) does not hide the fact that he feels “a lot of emotions” while holding the “tombstone” of his father Muhammad, or Mazyad bin Ali according to what is written on it, who died in 1968.

The body was missing as no funeral ceremony had taken place at that time. But Binh kept the tablet specifying the Moroccan nationality of the deceased.

Between 1947 and 1954, more than 120,000 people from the Arab countries of North Africa, half of them from Morocco, which had not yet achieved its independence, joined the ranks of the French army in Indochina. Binh’s father was one of approximately 150 Moroccan fugitives or prisoners who remained in communist Vietnam for more than a decade after the armistice.

The story of the latter highlights a little-known aspect of the war which still marks Vietnamese and French memory, 70 years after the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the end of the war.

Pierre Journeau, professor of contemporary history at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier, affirms that in France, “the history of courage at Dien Bien Phu remained for a long time the prerogative of white people, who constituted the majority in the ranks of the armed forces. »

He added: “After 1947, we relied on the colonial brigades to support the war effort, then they became the majority,” adding: “We lost part of this memory” of the colonial soldiers.

“Moroccan style” tea

At his home in Phu Tho (a two-hour drive north of Hanoi), Lee Tuan Binh serves black tea with mint leaves picked from the garden. He jokingly says: “Moroccan style, but without sugar.”

He is called “the stranger” in the village because of his dark skin color, but those close to him call him “Ali”, which is the name his father gave him.

The war against the United States and economic development dispersed the few Moroccan-Vietnamese families who had lived in the region for decades.

Some returned to Morocco in the 1970s, but Binh wanted to stay with his Vietnamese mother and two brothers.

“My father avoided talking about the war,” he remembers. “He was a man of few words. »

Mystery still surrounds part of the life of his father, who is said to have changed sides in 1953 or 1954.

Vietnamese propaganda presents fleeing foreigners as comrades in the struggle of oppressed peoples. However, French researchers indicate that their motivations were far from ideological, such as obtaining better salaries or the fear of being punished after making a mistake, according to what was reported by Agence France-Presse.

After the war, around 300 African and European soldiers “after surrendering,” according to Hanoi, remained on a collective farm in the Ba Vi district, an hour from the capital.

It was there that Binh’s father met a Vietnamese woman and Binh was born in 1959.

This site was demolished in the 1970s, but a several meter high gate remains, inspired by Moorish architecture and built by Moroccan workers in honor of their country.

This memorial is located in the garden of a Vietnamese family, where a few visitors, especially foreigners, visit it every month.

After being damaged by abandonment for more than half a century, it regained its appearance after renovation work in 2009 and 2018, at a time when research began to shed light on the fighters of the colonial battalions in Indochina. .

During this period, Le Tuan Binh fought for recognition of his past.

After years of administrative complexity, in 2016 he obtained a Moroccan passport for himself and his two children, born to a Vietnamese mother, under the nickname “Makki” chosen by the embassy.

His daughter, Laila (36), who currently lives in Casablanca, says: “My father encouraged me to leave. He has been talking about Morocco since I was a child.

She has never set foot in Morocco. He said, “Now I am old, I gave my daughter the opportunity,” adding, “I am happy now.” Some of my dreams have come true

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