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Bodies of 833 killed in Indochina returned

PARIS -- The bodies of 833 French soldiers killed during the Indochina war between 1945 and 1954 were flown back to France early Friday from Vietnam.

A short ceremony to honor the soldiers, presided over by Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and attended by several members of his government, was held in a chapel at Charles de Gaulle airport soon after the bodies arrived on an Air France flight from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

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The prime minister andseveral other government officials viewed the coffins of 10 of the soldiers, who fought in Vietnam after World War II when France attempted to regain control of its former colony. French involvement in Indochina ended with its defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954.

At Friday's memorial service, an army band played the Marseillaise, then Chirac and his ministers observed a minute of silence for the bodies.

A full mass for the soldiers will be held Saturday in Les Invalides, the national monument in Paris where the remains of Napoleon are entombed.

The repatriation of the bodies, the result of long negotiations between Paris and Hanoi, was described by the government as a 'step forward' in Franco-Vietnamese relations.

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But Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Didier Bariani said France continued to insist that Vietnam pull out troops occupying Cambodia.

'For Jacques Chirac, the management of the repatriation of these French tombs from Vietnam is a test of our relations with this country,' Bariani said.

A total of 25,000 French soldiers killed in Vietnam between 1945 and 1954 will be returned with the next year for burial in France.

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