Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Vietnamese Agent Orange victims slam US

NO GOODWILL A group representing victims of the highly toxic defoliant says the US has failed to address the consequences of using the defoliant during the war

AFP , HANOI

This file photo dated 22 March, 2000 shows Le Thi Nhon, left, 24, and her younger sister Le Thi Hoa, 15, both victims of Agent Orange, at their house in Vietnam.

PHOTO: AFP

A group representing Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange lashed out at the US on Friday for failing to address the consequences of the use of the highly toxic defoliant during the Vietnam War.

"The Vietnamese people with their tolerant humane tradition have expressed their willingness to cooperate with the United States to resolve post-war issues," the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange said.

"Regrettably, their goodwill has not been reciprocated," the organization, which was established earlier this year under the umbrella of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, added in a statement.

In a move that was considered inevitable given Washington's failure to atone for its use of Agent Orange, the Association filed a lawsuit on Jan. 30 at a Federal Court in New York against more than 30 US chemical companies.

The suit was lodged on behalf of six victims in Vietnam and all other Vietnamese nationals exposed to herbicides during the war. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The defendants, who include Dow Chemical and Monsanto, are accused of complicity to war crimes and crimes against humanity, among other charges.

"The lawsuit is not only for the sake of their own lives but also for the legitimate interests of all Agent Orange victims, including those in other countries and even in the US," the Association said.

The legacy of Agent Orange remains a source of contention between Vietnam and the US, who only established diplomatic relations in 1995, two decades after the war ended.

From 1961 to 1971, the US and South Vietnamese military sprayed millions of liters of toxic herbicides, mainly Agent Orange, over South Vietnam to destroy the vegetation used by communist forces for cover and food.

Hanoi says Agent Orange has caused health problems for more than one million Vietnamese and continues to have devastating consequences.

A study, released in August last year by scientists from the US, Germany and Vietnam, found that the defoliant was still contaminating people through their food.

Dioxin, its deadly component, can cause an increased risk of cancers, immunodeficiencies, reproductive and developmental changes, nervous system problems and other health effects, according to medical experts.

Vietnam says the US has a moral and humanitarian responsibility to heal the wounds of the war but it has never formally asked for compensation for Agent Orange victims.

Washington, however, insists there is no direct evidence linking dioxin with any illnesses.

Agreeing to disagree, both governments signed a pact in March, 2002 on a framework for more research into the impact of the defoliant.

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange appealed to "compatriots" across the world to give their backing to the legal proceedings.

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