Flap Over Ho's Will Hurts Hanoi Leaders

LEADERS of Vietnam's Communist Party have tried since 1986 to regain the respect of the people after admitting the country had been made poorer for their economic mistakes in the past. But a recent announcement that the leadership had lied about the last testament of Ho Chi Minh after his death in 1969 has not helped the party's prestige.

The party, then led by Le Duan, had even lied about the date of Ho's death, which for 20 years was said to be Sept. 3. Ho actually died Sept. 2, a date celebrated as national day for Ho's declaration of independence in 1945.

Ho still carries respect for bringing independence from France, even though he was the party's guiding light.

A ``club'' of retired party members in the south made known a rumor last year that the will was doctored. Vu Ky, then Ho's personal secretary, confirmed it by writing that Ho's wish to be cremated was violated when his body was preserved in a Hanoi mausoleum.

In September, party chief Nguyen Van Linh made the big admission, trying to explain the changes in the testament as necessary while a war was under way.

Ho, for instance, had said that peasants should be given a one-year exemption on taxes after victory over the Americans. This wish was not followed, Mr. Linh said, ``because of the lack of proper conditions in the past.''

Linh tried to distinguish between the current leadership and a previous Politburo that approved the falsehoods.

With a celebration planned next year for Ho's 100th birthday, the leaders may have thought it was time to come clean.

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