Binh Xuyen

With their stronghold in the Cholon section near Saigon, the Binh Xuyen were drug smugglers who traditionally traded support for legal protection of their rackets, whether they were dealing with the French Empire or the Vietminh nationalists. Their trade was prostitution, gambling casinos, and opium dens. In post-World War II Vietnam, the Binh Xuyen became a powerful political faction under the leadership of Bay Vien. In 1945 the Binh Xuyen provided terrorists to the Vietminh, who assassinated more than 150 French civilians, including women and children. In order to generate the funds necessary to sustain his government, Emperor Bao Dai readily accepted money from the Binh Xuyen, who received legal protection for their rackets in return. Bao Dai made Bay Vien a general in the Vietnamese army and gave him complete authority over the casinos, prostitution, opium traffic, gold smuggling, currency manipulation, and other rackets. The French accepted Bay Vien's authority and even used his private Binh Xuyen army to fight the Vietminh. By the early 1950s, the Binh Xuyen army had reached more than 40,000 soldiers and it was a major political-military faction in southern Vietnam.

After securing control of the new government of South Vietnam in the spring of 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem decided to crush the political and religious factions in the South—like the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai—and one of the most powerful was the Binh Xuyen. On April 27, 1955, Diem ordered Bay Vien and the Binh Xuyen to remove its troops from Saigon, and when they refused Diem attacked. The battle raged inside the city, killing more than 500 people and leaving 25,000 without homes. The French and Bao Dai tried to assist the Binh Xuyen, but Diem prevailed. By the end of May, Bay Vien had fled to Paris and the Binh Xuyen army had been driven into the Mekong Delia, where many of them joined the Vietcong guerrillas.