Veterans in Vietnam for Agent Orange meeting

Vietnam was set to host an international conference on Tuesday on the effects of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange, bringing together veterans and delegates from at least six countries.

Vietnamese civilians and soldiers from all sides of the conflict claim health defects from the chemical that United States forces used to strip away jungle cover and destroy food crops.

Victims from Vietnam and elsewhere have been fighting for compensation from Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other former producers of the toxic chemical, which was named after its orange-striped containers.

A New York court last year dismissed a Vietnamese lawsuit representing millions of victims. The Vietnamese team has launched an appeal.

“To fight and defeat the Americans in the war was difficult,” professor Nguyen Trong Nhan, vice-president of the Vietnam Dioxin/Agent Orange Victims Association, told Agence France-Presse. “Winning in court is even more difficult.

“Even if we have sufficient evidence about our victims, the American judges can always reject it.”

Nhan said the two-day meeting would bring together veterans and campaigners from Vietnam, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Canada.

His group says that between 1961 and 1971, the US military dropped more than 100 000 tonnes of toxic chemicals on southern Vietnam, exposing anywhere between 2,1-million and 4,8-million people.

Dioxin, the main ingredient of Agent Orange, has been blamed for hormonal and genetic changes that cause diseases such as leukemia, immune deficiencies, reproductive and developmental changes and nervous system damage.

It accumulates in animal and human tissue and can be passed on to babies through breast milk.

“It’s bad when you’re not just killing the enemy soldier but you’re also killing his grandchildren and you’re poisoning his environment,” said Joan Anne Duffy Newberry, a US Air Force nurse in Vietnam during the war.

US veterans who claim health disorders caused by Agent Orange won a victory in 1984 when US chemical companies paid $180-million into a veterans’ fund without admitting any liability.

In January this year, a South Korean court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto to compensate 6 800 Vietnam War veterans with about $65-million.

“I’ve been working in the United States for 25 years on this issue and this is the first time I’ve felt such hope, especially to hear that the Koreans got a judgement against the chemical companies,” said Duffy Newberry.

The US government has officially rejected responsibility for the health effects, and a proposed joint study broke down when both sides failed to agree on the methodology of the research.

US ambassador Michael Marine this month said Washington and Hanoi had had some “cooperative exchanges” but he criticised Vietnam for blaming too many cases of disability on the toxin.

“I hear this constant refrain: the term ‘victims of Agent Orange,’” he told a press briefing.
“And what they’re describing is every person who’s disabled. And that’s, as I’m sure you know, simply inaccurate.” - AFP

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