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Tensions precede Long Tan ban decision

AAP logoAAP 18/08/2016 By Jennifer Rajca

The first the Australian government knew about rising tensions in Vietnam about Long Tan commemorations was the night before local authorities banned the commemorations, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insists.

But the man who commanded Australian forces in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War in 1966 says trouble was brewing weeks ago.

"It was mentioned some weeks ago when I was in Canberra that Hanoi was a bit worried about the number of people expected - like 3000 - and it was all getting too much, too big, getting out of hand," retired colonel Harry Smith told the ABC.

Mr Smith was one of several hundred Australians unable to access the site on Thursday - the 50th anniversary of a battle that claimed the lives of 18 diggers - after the Vietnamese government relented and limited entry to 100 a time.

Ms Bishop said the Australian government was only formally notified about the ban the day before despite months of preparations.

She had spoken with her Vietnamese counterpart on Wednesday night.

"He said to me that the concerns and tensions over the presence of a significant number of Australian veterans and their families had been rising," Ms Bishop told reporters in Melbourne.

"They were concerned at the reaction of local people."

It was not an issue when Ms Bishop met the country's deputy prime minister and foreign minister at the end of July.

She and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were able to achieve a "breakthrough" and hundreds of veterans were able to visit the site.

But hundreds also missed out, she said.

The minister denied Vietnam's decision was retaliation for any Australian government action.

"The deputy prime minister and the prime minister of Vietnam were at pains to explain that our bilateral relationship was in the best shape it has been in for 40 years at least."

Mr Turnbull earlier expressed his disappointment that hundreds of veterans and their families who travelled to Vietnam were unable to pay their respects.

While he understood the issue was sensitive in Vietnam and the government there had the right to determine what ceremonies were held, to change the rules "literally the day before was very unreasonable".

Mr Turnbull said next time Australia would be agreeing very clearly and publicly so there was no possibility of any misunderstanding.

Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan has flagged Australia and Vietnam will establish a memorandum of understanding on future Long Tan commemorations.

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