SEVEN French warships headed by an aircraft carrier were steaming north to Haiphong this week to rescue thousands of Catholics fleeing to the sea in sampans and dug-out canoes from Communist persecution.
A British United Press report from Saigon says that an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 peasants from the Catholic areas of Phat Diem and Bui Chu, in the Red River Delta, arc said to be leaving their homes and embarking in anything that will float to escape the Vietminh.
On Monday a French ship picked up 4.000 of them stranded on a sandbank and threatened with drowning by the rising tide, The refugees originally stayed behind when the French left, lulled by Red promises that religion would be respected. The French "mercy squadron" theoretically is obliged to keep out of Communist territorial waters south of Haiphong. but international law authorises it to approach the coast to help persons in danger of being shipwrecked.
Refugee reports state that the thousands of fleeing people include not only Catholics but also many Buddhists.
Nationalist circles in Saigon strongly criticised the International Armistice Control Commission in Hanoi, charging that it had not protected the rights of Catholics in North Vietnam. The Nationalists accused the commission of favouritism towards the Vietminh, and said Vietminh agents wearing crucifixes appeared before the commission in the guise of Catholics to announce that hie under
the Communists was wonderful. •
NOTE : Five thousand Catholic refugees reached Haiphong about three weeks ago after a perilous voyage in junks and on rafts.