General Marcel Bigeard, one of France's most decorated soldiers, who died last month, reportedly asked to rejoin his fallen comrades.

But a Vietnamese official is quoted as saying this would "create a precedent".

The refusal is thought to be a reference to American soldiers who might request similar treatment.

Gen Bigeard was a commanding officer during the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, where French troops were surrounded and defeated by the forces of the Vietnamese Communists, the Viet Minh.

'Sensitive and complicated'

Before he died in France last month, aged 94, Gen Bigeard had asked for his ashes to be taken to the battlefield, where they would "rejoin his comrades who fell in battle", an aide said.

But as Herve Morin this week becomes the first French defence minister to visit Vietnam since Dien Bien Phu, the country's foreign and defence ministries have rejected Gen Bigeard's last request.

"We do not wish to create a precedent," an official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"One never knows if one day another former foreign soldier would want to do the same thing elsewhere in the country. That would be sensitive and complicated."

Mr Morin described his trip on Tuesday as "highly symbolic". He said he did not raise the matter of Gen Bigeard's ashes.

Gen Bigeard, who was also a commanding officer during the Battle of Algiers, began his military career as an enlisted man, and retired from the army as State Secretary for Defence in 1976.

The former paratroop regiment commander caused controversy in France in 2000 when he told a newspaper that torture had been a "necessary evil" in Algeria.

He was believed to be one of the most decorated soldiers in France and had received medals from both France and Britain for his wartime service.

BBC News - July 27, 2010


Vietnam snubs French general's ashes

Vietnamese authorities have objected to a proposal to scatter the ashes of a French general in Vietnam during the first visit by a French defence minister since Vietnamese independence. General Marcel Bigeard died in France last month aged 94. He had requested his ashes be brought to the battlefield of Dien Bien Phu, but a Vietnamese defence official said it would set an unwelcome precedent.

Vietnamese officials objected to the plan during a visit by Hervé Morin, the first visit to the country by a French defence minister since 1954, when France was defeated at Dien Bien Phu.

"We do not wish to create a precedent," the official told French press agency AFP, requesting anonymity. "One never knows if one day another former foreign soldier would want to do the same thing elsewhere in the country. That would be sensitive and complicated.”

Bigeard headed a parachute battalion and was dropped into the French base of Dien Bien Phu ahead of the historic 56-day battle in 1954.

France was defeated, paving the way for Vietnam's independence. Morin said his visit was "highly symbolic". He said he did not raise the matter of Bigeard's ashes but offered to help Vietnam upgrade its forces.

Hanoi has already bought radar, helicopters and transport aircraft from France, according to Morin.

"There is a very strong demand from the Vietnamese authorities for us to be able to participate in the modernisation of the Vietnamese army," he said. "We indicated that France was politically ready to respond to the demands of Vietnam."

Radio France Internationale - July 26, 2010