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The discovery at the creek in Nam Hoa district did not come until last month—after a tip from three Communist soldiers who had defected to the government. The creek and its grisly secret were hidden under such heavy jungle canopy that landing zones had to be blasted out before helicopters could fly in with the search team. For three weeks, the remains were arranged on long shelves at a nearby school, and hundreds of Hue citizens came to identify their missing relatives. "They had no reason to kill these people," said Mrs. Le Thi Bich Phe, who lost her husband.

Negligible Propaganda. What triggered the Communist slaughter? Many Hue citizens believe that the execution orders came directly from Ho Chi Minh. More likely, however, the Communists simply lost their nerve. They had been led to expect that many South Vietnamese would rally to their cause during the Tet onslaught. That did not happen, and when the battle for Hue began turning in the allies' favor, the Communists apparently panicked and killed off their prisoners.

The Saigon government, which claims that the Communists have killed 25,000 civilians since 1957 and abducted another 46,000, has made negligible propaganda use of the massacre. In Hue it has not had to. Says Colonel Le Van Than, the local province chief: "After Tet, the people realized that the Viet Cong would kill them, regardless of political belief." That fearful thought haunts many South Vietnamese, particularly those who work for their government or for the Americans. With the U.S. withdrawal under way, the massacre of Hue might prove a chilling example of what could lie ahead.

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