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Vietnam blames birth defects on Agent Orange
HANOI, Vietnam (CNN) -- A quarter century after the Vietnam War, the impact and implications of the herbicide known as Agent Orange remain a source of sharp debate.
For Vietnam, it's an article of faith that Agent Orange has produced birth defects like those evidenced in a health center near Hanoi, where children born deformed, retarded or with severe health problems are cared for.
From 1961 to 1971, U.S. warplanes dumped tons of Agent Orange on Vietnam to defoliate trees and shrubbery and deny communist guerrillas cover and concealment.
Hospital officials say the parents of the sick children were exposed to Agent Orange during the war. "These children all come from families with no history of birth defects before the war," says Nguyen Khai Hung, the center's director. "It was only afterwards that we saw so many cases like this."
But the United States has refused to acknowledge that the herbicide was the cause, insisting there hasn't been enough scientific research to be sure.
U.S. veterans, who also claim to suffer from Agent Orange-related disorders, say that's just foot-dragging.
"We have an obligation to Vietnam and have ignored it too long," says Chuck Searcy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "The U.S. has been reluctant to engage Vietnam because of a fear of liability and demands for reparations."
There are only a handful of scientific studies detailing how much the Vietnamese soil, water, and food chain have been contaminated. To many in both Vietnam and the U.S., the impact of Agent Orange remains controversial, and political and economic considerations complicate efforts to deal with its legacy.
"The pity is that many people in need of assistance might have been prevented from getting assistance by the political debate," said Ingela Holmertz of the Red Cross.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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