SAIGON, April 28, 1975 (UPI) - Gen. Duong Van (Big) Minh took over Monday as South Vietnam's third president in a week but failed in his initial plea to the Communists for an immediate cease-fire. Minutes later warplanes bombed Saigon's airport for the fi The leader of the coup that overthrew President Ngo Dinh Diem 12 years ago took the oath of office to succeed Tran Van Huong. Minh addressed himself to the Communists: "Let us sit together and negotiate and work out a solution."
In Paris, a North Vietnamese spokesman, asked whether Minh's election and call for peace talks had met the Communists' conditions for negotiations, replied, "Certainly not." A Viet Cong spokesman in Saigon said only that Minh's inaugural remarks were "not in keeping" with Communist demands.
Political sources said the new president likely would ask most if not all 500 official Americans still in Vietnam to leave the country-a move to meet Viet Cong demands for an end to the U.S. presence as one condition for peace talks.
A second, somewhat vaguely worded Communist demand called for abolition of "the repressive and coercive (Saigon) war machine."
Less than 30 minutes after Minh was sworn in, four American-built A37 jet fighter-bombers swept out of the clouds and bombed Saigon's Tan Son Nhut air base, destroying 11 parked planes. Government chase pilots said the A37s fled to a Communist-held base at Phan Rang, 165 miles northeast of Saigon.
Communist ground troops-the vanguard of an estimated 150,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese around the city-battled to within three miles of Saigon, and shooting erupted in the capital itself.
The airlift of Vietnamese to U.S. refugee camps spread across the Pacific was suspended for more than five hours. Government authorities sealed off Tan Son Nhut and put Saigon under a 24-hour curfew.
The election of Minh was a last-ditch attempt by South Vietnam to negotiate peace and avoid near-certain military defeat. Minh is the only major figure the Communists have not rejected out of hand for possible talks.
While the presidential changeover was under way, other military leaders were preparing to follow Nguyen Van Thieu, who stepped down as president one week ago, into exile.
Gen. Cao Van Vien, chairman of the joint general staff, was reported to have flown from the country. The report could not be confirmed, but Vien's family already has fled.
Minh aimed his acceptance speech at the Communists ("I propose we stop all aggression against each other"), at friendly nations ("We sincerely call on all the world's people to come to our aid to recover peace") and at his own people ("Please be courageous and stay here and accept the fate of God").
He did not mention the United States by name.
Minh ordered his soldiers-outnumbered three to one around Saigon alone-to "protect...whatever territory we have left over."
That was not much. The Communist offensive that started in mid-March has overrun three-fourths of South Vietnam and 23 of its 44 provinces, and all but surrounded the capital itself with men, tanks, artillery and rockets.
With the pressure building on the capital, Minh told his people that "within the days to come, I can promise you nothing but difficulties. I cannot promise you much.
"I accept the responsibility...to seek a cease-fire and to reopen negotiations and bring peace on the basis of the (1973) Paris peace agreement."
Minh appeared to edge closer to the Viet Cong position of condemning the U.S. airlift of Vietnamese from the country. The president urged citizens to "please remain, and stay together, rebuild South Vietnam. Build an independent South Vietnam...so Vietnamese will live with Vietnamese in brotherhood."