Senator John McCain’s former Vietnamese jailer has said he respected his former inmate and felt sad about his death.

He spoke as others in Vietnam paid their respects to the former US Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war, and was later instrumental in bringing the wartime foes together.

Mr McCain’s Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and he was taken prisoner and held in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison for more than five years.

Former Colonel Tran Trong Duyet, who ran the prison at the time, said he met Mr McCain many times while he was confined there.

“At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance,” he told the newspaper Vietnam News.

“Later on when he became a US senator, he and Senator John Kerry greatly contributed to promote Vietnam-US relations so I was very fond of him.

“When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad. I would like to send condolences to his family. I think it’s the same feeling for all Vietnamese people as he has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam-US relations.”

Mr McCain died of brain cancer on Saturday aged 81 in his home state of Arizona.

Meanwhile, scores of people in Hanoi paid their respects to Mr McCain at the US embassy and at a monument by Truc Bach Lake, where he landed after parachuting from his damaged plane.

Speaking to reporters after writing in a book of condolence, US ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said Mr McCain was “a great leader and real hero” who helped normalise relations between the former enemies.

“He was a warrior, he was also a peacemaker and of course he fought and suffered during the Vietnam War, but then later as a senator, he was one of the leaders who helped bring our countries back together and helped the United States and Vietnam normalise our relationship and now become partners and friends,” Mr Kritenbrink said.

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Mr McCain and former Senator Kerry played important roles in the normalisation of bilateral relations in 1995.

Pham Gia Minh, a 62-year-old businessman, said he witnessed Vietnamese civilians being killed by the US bombings of North Vietnam, including the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972, but he admired Mr McCain for overcoming the difficult past to build better ties between the two countries.

“War is losses and suffering,” he said after signing the book of condolence.

“But the will of a brave nation is to go beyond that to look to the future. The Vietnamese people have that will and Mr John McCain has that will… We both have that will to overcome the painful past, overcome the misunderstanding to together build a brighter future.”

Press Association