by Agence France Presse

A group of Vietnamese and American victims of Agent Orange converged at the Vietnam War memorial here Monday to highlight the plight of those exposed to the highly toxic herbicide in the bloody war.

“The victims of Agent Orange not only suffer from its effects but pass on the problem to future generations,” said Nguyen Trong Nhan, a former president of the Vietnam Red Cross campaigning for “justice” for the victims.

Nhan, a vice-president of the Association of Agent Orange/Dioxin Victims in Vietnam, is leading a group of victims of the toxic defoliant on a 10-city tour of the United States to highlight their plight to Americans.

Agent Orange was used by the US Army in the Vietnam War to clear the jungle and prevent enemy forces from being able to use the dense foliage for cover.

But civil society groups claim three million Vietnamese, and tens of thousands of US soldiers who fought in the war were affected by the chemical.

Among the Vietnamese victims at the Vietnam War memorial in Washington Monday were Dang Thi Hong Nhut, who had suffered multiple miscarriages, and Ho Sy Hai, who has a prostate tumor, linked to Agent Orange.

“We are here as friends and share the suffering and pain of the American mothers who lost their children in the war. But the loss in Vietnam is much, much bigger,” Hai said, after paying respects at the memorial bearing the names of the 50,000 American soldiers who died in Vietnam.

Hai’s wife had “many” miscarriages while one of their children died of cancer at a tender age, Nhan said. Of their three living children — two are deaf and dumb while the third is mentally retarded.

This is the first meeting in Washington between Vietnamese Agent Orange victims and US Vietnam veterans suffering from the chemical’s effects, officials said.

“The US government had tried to deny the Agent Orange problem up until 1991 and so it has been difficult to reconstruct the magnitude of the crime,” said David Cline, who served in Vietnam and is now the head of Veterans for Peace, a US group of anti-war veterans.

“In terms of numbers, at least 100,000 to 200,000 people (US soldiers who served in Vietnam) could have had (Agent Orange) problems,” he said.

“The US Department of Veteran Affairs has statistics on how many people they recognized as having disability at this point but those numbers are relatively small — like less than 50,000,” he said.

Cline said it was important to raise awareness in the United States about the Agent Orange problem and to seek “justice” particularly for the Vietnamese victims.

“In some cases, the defects have been seen in people representing three generations — which means it is not something that is going to go away when a certain generation dies,” he said.

A US court earlier this year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of millions of Vietnamese allegedly harmed by the war-era defoliant and which had accused a string of US chemical firms of crimes against humanity.

An appeal has been lodged against the dismissal.

“We have a responsibility to stand with the Vietnamese in their struggle for that justice. It’s been too long,” said Frank Corcoran, a US infantryman in the Vietnam War who said he was suffering from Agent Orange-related prostate cancer.

In 1984, chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange paid 180 million dollars into a fund for US veterans following a lawsuit. But the companies did not admit wrongdoing and Vietnamese victims have never been compensated.

Laura Costas of the Veterans for Peace said the United States had failed to learned from its experience in the Vietnam War, citing accusations that US troops had used white phosphorous bombs and depleted uranium in Iraq.

Costas, whose brother was among US soldiers who served in Iraq, said, “We don’t know what kind of health problems he will suffer in the future but he was definitely exposed to depleted uranium and they don’t really have a plan for the soldiers who were exposed.”