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Vietnam wants faster US cleanup of Agent Orange
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Vietnam urged the US to speed funding for Agent Orange victims yesterday at the start of the fourth annual meeting on joint efforts to clean up areas that American forces contaminated with the toxic herbicide during the Vietnam War.

US troops sprayed Agent Orange on jungles to deprive Vietnamese troops of ground cover. Vietnam says 1 million to 4 million of its citizens may have suffered serious health consequences.

So far, cleanup efforts have focused on the airport at Danang, a former US air base in central Vietnam where American troops stored, mixed and loaded Agent Orange onto planes.

Agent Orange may be the war's most contentious legacy. After years of disagreement, the two sides began working together in 2006 on problems linked to the herbicide. A joint study in Danang found dioxin levels were 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits.

The two sides have already taken temporary steps to contain dioxin, the highly toxic element of Agent Orange, at the Danang site. They are now seeking ways to remove the dioxin from the soil.

The two sides are also working on joint efforts to help disabled Vietnamese whose health problems might be linked to Agent Orange.

It isn't clear how much the cleanup and health projects will cost.

The Vietnamese government estimates that cleaning Danang and the two other most contaminated Agent Orange hot spots will cost $58 million. So far, the US government has set aside $8 million to deal with environmental and health issues linked to Agent Orange.

As this week's meetings opened, the Vietnamese side urged the US to speed up disbursement of money to help the disabled.

The US provides benefits to US veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later developed various cancers. But the US says more scientific study is needed to understand the link between Agent Orange and various physical disabilities suffered by Vietnamese who live in areas where it was used.

The Vietnamese say many babies of soldiers exposed to Agent Orange have been born with terrible birth defects.

The two sides have agreed to work together to help Vietnamese who have disabilities, regardless of the cause.

"We're not just talking. We're working together on concrete projects," said US Ambassador Michael Michalak.

(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies September 9, 2009)

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