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Vietnamese Claiming to be Victims of Agent Orange Decry US Dismissal of Lawsuit


Vietnamese claiming to be victims of Agent Orange are outraged a U.S. court has dismissed their lawsuit against the chemical's manufacturers for crimes against humanity. The U.S. military in the Vietnam War sprayed the defoliant, which Vietnamese say has caused illnesses ranging from cancer to birth defects. A federal judge in New York Thursday decided the suit had no basis in law, and the plaintiffs had failed to prove a clear link between Agent Orange and their illnesses.

The Vietnam War ended nearly 30 years ago, but there was renewed bitterness on the streets of Hanoi Friday after a United States judge threw out a lawsuit by Vietnamese who claim they are victims of the Agent Orange chemical sprayed during what people here call the American War.

The lawsuit was filed against more than a dozen chemical companies who produced Agent Orange, which contains cancer causing dioxin. The suit represented some four million people that Vietnam claims are victims of the herbicide.

But on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said there was "no basis" for claims that companies - including Dow Chemical and Monsanto - committed war crimes by supplying the toxic agent.

State-run media in Vietnam have given prominent coverage to the lawsuit, and the dismissal provoked outrage among some Vietnamese. Eighty-six-year-old Nguyen Mai, a retired government official, says someone should pay for the devastation Agent Orange has caused Vietnam. He says human morality teaches us that those who commit crimes have to take responsibility. Therefore, he says, the United States has to compensate generations of Vietnamese suffering the effects of Agent Orange.

The U.S. military sprayed some 80 million liters of the defoliant over the jungles of Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, to rob the communist Viet Cong of cover.

Vietnam says veterans of the war and their children and grandchildren are suffering cancer and birth defects that leave children with crippled arms and legs.

The U.S. government already pays compensation to 10,000 U.S. veterans of the war who claim exposure to the chemical harmed their health.

This is the first legal challenge by Vietnamese plaintiffs in the U.S. court system and they are vowing to appeal the dismissal of their lawsuit.

Their case has received moral support from some American advocacy groups, like the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which works with Vietnamese victims of the war. Hanoi representative Andrew Wells-Dang says the United States should practice what it preaches in accepting responsibility.

"We think the U.S. has a moral obligation to assist people who are affected in the U.S. as well as Vietnam, and regardless of whether the U.S. intended or foresaw those consequences, that's still a responsibility that we have," he said. "We are very quick to call on others to accept responsibility for their past actions, we should also be willing to accept that ourselves as a country."

The issue is the subject of a Paris conference Friday and Saturday. More than 250 scientists from the United States, Vietnam and other countries are discussing the war's lasting legacy - including the health effects.

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