During the Vietnam war, the north-south supply route for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army was nicknamed the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in honor of the country's communist revolutionary hero. The trail--sometimes a road, sometimes just a path through dense jungle--snaked along the border with Cambodia and Laos, roughly parallel to Vietnam's only national artery, coastal Route 1. Wartime legend is soon to become modern, concrete fact: a four-lane highway will be built in the tracks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to connect the northern capital of Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Its inevitable name: the Ho Chi Minh National Highway.
It's a major undertaking for a poor country like Vietnam and, at 1,690 km, one of the more ambitious road-building projects in Asia. Hanoi says the highway, to be completed in 2003, could alter the country in untold ways--a promise that has been taken very seriously, and not very happily. In fact, the project has become one of the biggest political footballs the country has kicked around in years. It has provoked a chorus of public protest, which is anything but normal in nonconfrontational Vietnam, and there have been sizzling debates in the usually compliant National Assembly. Government officials have publicly reproved one another, trading accusations of stupidity, dishonesty and lack of respect for the country's laws. It has been a remarkable exchange, says a Western diplomat in Hanoi. The political process in Vietnam has evidently undergone some fundamental changes.
Reported by Huw Watkin/Hanoi