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First soldier, then an envoy, now cowboy...

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HANOI, Vietnam — "Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Vietnamese girl. . . . "

The lyrics were a bit skewed, but the song was familiar and so was the singer — Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"Blacker than night were the eyes of Makiko, wicked and evil while casting her spell. My love was deep for this Vietnamese maiden, I was in love but in vain I could tell."

Powell had spent the previous two days in serious deliberations with other Asia-Pacific foreign ministers at an annual meeting.

But, as has become a tradition for the gathering, the final evening is reserved for levity — with the delegates themselves doing the entertaining. Two of the groups did renditions of "Yellow Submarine."

The event was closed to all journalists except those from the government-run television network, which recorded the skits for domestic consumption. Copies of the tape were sold to some other news agencies. CNN broadcast the tape Friday.

Powell sang a parody of Marty Robbins' "El Paso" by himself to the accompaniment of a guitarist. Then he was joined by colleagues, "Powell and the Unnamed Senior Officials."

Then a woman appeared on stage with a typical Vietnamese conical hat. It turned out to be Makiko Tanaka, the Japanese foreign minister.

There is competition for Makiko's affection, there is a loud "pop" and Powell falls to the ground, dying. Makiko rushes to his side and kisses him on the cheek. The assembled crowd roars its approval.

The action on stage had been foretold by the song. Sort of.

"One night a wild young cowboy came in, wild as a West Texas wind. Dashing and daring, a drink he was sharing with wicked Makiko the girl that I loved.

"So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden. Down went his hand for the gun that he wore. My challenge was answered in less than a heartbeat, the handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor. ..."

Powell's predecessor, Madeleine Albright, looked forward to these annual rituals.

Last year, Albright wore a bowler hat and swung a golf club in a parody of Bob Hope crooning out his signature "Thanks for the Memory" — a fitting song for her last appearance before stepping down.