March 29, 2006

US Must Act for Agent Orange Victims, Veterans Say

By Ho Binh Minh

HANOI -- Vietnam War veterans and social activists from several countries demanded on Wednesday that Washington take responsibility for victims of the Agent Orange defoliant used by the U.S. military.

The call for U.S. action came at the end of a two-day conference in Hanoi where deformed children were shown as dramatic evidence of the effects of 20 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, poured on the country.

"We demand that the United States government be held responsible for making contributions to overcoming the consequences of toxic chemicals," the closing statement said.

Last March, a federal court dismissed a suit on behalf of millions of Vietnamese who charged the United States committed war crimes by its use of Agent Orange, which contains dioxin, to deny communist troops ground cover.

Manufacturers named in the suit included Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co.

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) has filed an appeal, saying assistance was needed urgently as many were dying from cancer, deformities and organ dysfunction.

The U.S. appeals court is expected to give its ruling in April.

Among the U.S. veterans at the conference was Ralph Steele, whose helicopter flew on spraying operations during the war.

"We didn't know it was going to be a catastrophic illness like it is now," he told Reuters Television while visiting a charity in Hanoi that caters to veterans and deformed children born to parents Vietnam believes were affected by Agent Orange.

David Cline, national president of the U.S. organization, Veterans for Peace, said that U.S. government had admitted that American soldiers became sick from Agent Orange.

"If you acknowledge they get sick, then you have to acknowledge that the Vietnamese get sick. Two sides of a coin, so there should be justice for all Agent Orange victims, not just one group of them," Cline told Reuters Television.

VAVA says Vietnam's lawsuit against U.S. chemical manufacturers was meant not only to help Vietnamese victims, but also victims in other countries.

Veterans and activists called on the governments of South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to adopt policies for victims in their respective countries as well as in Vietnam.

"The pain and suffering are not a single individual's. This struggle for justice is for the entire world, for future generations," their joint statement said.

(Additional reporting by Nguyen Van Vinh)