The first group of Communist civilian prisoners who were due to be released on Friday (April 27) were returned to their South Vietnamese prison camp.
GV Prisoners in trucks at Bien Hoa Air Base being guarded by military & national police (2 shots)
SV Soldier undoing tail board to truck & prisoners off trucks (3 shots)
SV Prisoners sitting on tarmac (4 shots)
SV Stretcher cases (2 shots)
GV PAN OVER Prisoners & guards
SV Official addressing prisoners
GV J.M.C. helicopter landing
GV PAN OVER Prisoners guarded by military
SV Prisoners returning to trucks (4 shots)
SV Prisoners boarding trucks (4 shots)
GV Trucks leaving airfield returning to prison camps
Initials ESP/2207 ESP/2249
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: The first group of Communist civilian prisoners who were due to be released on Friday (April 27) were returned to their South Vietnamese prison camp.
The group of 90 women and 100 men sat under a blazing sun on the tarmac of Bien Hea air base, north of Saigon, for an hour waiting to be taken to Loc Ninh, a communist held town near the border with the Khmer Republic.
But when a two party Joint Military Commission helicopter arrived at the airbase from Saigon with only two South Vietnamese officers on board, the prisoners were taken by trucks back to their prison camp.
There have been long disagreements over the number of prisoners held by each side and over the timing and location of the releases. The South Vietnamese planned to release 400 prisoners on Friday (27 April) and a further 350 on Saturday (28 April). The Viet Cong planned to free 637 South Vietnamese civilian prisoners on Saturday.
World controversy has been aroused by the conditions in which some Communist prisoners were held. At a detention centre on Con Son Island, prisoners were at one time kept in "tiger cages" - small concrete pits covered with iron bars. The South Vietnamese Government has refused to describe the civilian prisoners as political prisoners. They say the prisoners were breaking South Vietnamese laws when captured.
The Saigon Government claims that more than 60,000 of its citizens are being held by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong alleges that "hundreds of thousands" of Communist civilians are held by Saigon.
A sub-committee of the Joint Military Commission met on Friday after the first group of prisoners to be released were back in their prison camps, to try to clarify the situation and arrange for the releases to being. A South Vietnamese military official claimed that the releases did not take place because officials from the International Ceassefire Commission were not in place at Loc Ninh.
A Viet Cong spokesman said it had been agreed that the civilians would be handed over at Loc Ninh and not Bien Heo, and there could be no possible misunderstanding.
International Commission of Control and supervision (ICCS) officials said that the observer team of Canadians, Hungarians, Indonesians and Poles did not travel to Loc Ninh because they did not get sufficient assurances of safety from the Communists.
But on Saturday (28 April) the first exchange of civilian prisoners held by the Viet Cong and the Saigon Government began - two hours after the 90-day deadline set by the Paris ceasefire agreement expired. South Vietnamese officials said that a plane load of about 50 Communist civilians left Bien Hoa airbase, north of Saigon, to Loc Ninh, the first of 400 to be released during the day.