Vietnam calls Agent Orange verdict "unjust"

Other News Materials 24 February 2008 01:01 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Vietnam's government spokesman Saturday said a US court's dismissal of a suit by Vietnamese against the manufacturers of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange was "unjust and wrongful".

Several dozen Vietnamese plaintiffs brought the suit against nearly 30 US chemical companies involved in manufacturing Agent Orange, which US forces sprayed from airplanes to clear away jungle foliage during the Vietnam War.

The defoliant contained high levels of the toxic chemical dioxin, which the plaintiffs said had caused them to suffer from cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses.

The decision Friday by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a 2005 verdict throwing out the suit. The court said the plaintiffs had failed to establish that their illnesses had been caused by dioxin from Agent Orange.

It also said that because the defoliant had been used to clear vegetation, and not as a weapon against troops or civilians, its use had not violated international law.

Vietnamese government spokesman Le Dung said the Vietnamese people were "very discontented" with the verdict.

"It is a pity that the US Court of Appeals issued such a verdict, when the US government had been making efforts to cooperate with Vietnam to heal the consequences caused by Agent Orange," Dung said.

As US-Vietnamese relations have improved in recent years, the US has funded limited projects to assess the presence of dioxin in Vietnam and to clean up some acknowledged Agent Orange "hot spots". In 2007, the US Congress appropriated 3 million dollars for studies and cleanup efforts, including sealing polluted soil at the former US airbase in Danang, where Agent Orange spillage led to heavy dioxin contamination.

Previously, the US had maintained that studies linked dioxin to only a few diseases, and that there is insufficient evidence to claim that illnesses found in Vietnam are the result of Agent Orange. Vietnam asserts that millions of its citizens suffer from Agent Orange-related illnesses and birth defects.

At a meeting earlier this month of the US-Vietnam Agent Orange Working Group, a non-governmental initiative, scientists said the links between Agent Orange and illness were becoming clearer over time.

"The fact is that most of the science now is showing that there are some diseases, and particularly cancers, that have some linkages," said Dr. Vaughan Turekian, an environmental chemist at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"What that says is, independent of the birth defects, it's necessary to clean up the mess."