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Latest update : 2011-01-19

Vietnam: for victims of Agent Orange, the war isn't over

In Vietnam, 30 years after the war, Agent Orange is still claiming victims. Used on a massive scale by the US army to prevent Viet Cong soldiers from hiding, this powerful herbicide permeated the ground. From encephalitis to congenital deformities and leukaemia, thousands of children are being born severely handicapped due to the chemical.

From 1961 to 1971, the US army sprayed massive amounts of dioxin over Vietnam. In total, between 2.1 and 4.8 million people living in some 20,000 villages were directly affected.

40 years after it was sprayed, Agent Orange continues to cause deaths, cancers, leukaemia and birth defects. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that there are one million victims.

At the end of 2009, US President Barack Obama decided to double the amount of American aid set aside to repair the damage caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. Six million dollars will now be put towards decontaminating the worst-affected areas. Part of this money is expected to go to centres where the victims of Agent Orange live. The Vietnamese welcomed this gesture by Obama, but found it insufficient considering the amount of damage caused in their country.

Unable to attack the US government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange filed a lawsuit in the US courts against the main American herbicide suppliers, including Dow Chemical, Thompson, Diamond, Monsanto, Hercules and Uniroyal. The first verdict was delivered on March 13th 2007: the lawsuit was dismissed.

But the NGOs are not giving up. They want those responsible for this sanitary catastrophe to be tried, and the victims awarded compensation. On May 15th and 16th 2009, an International People’s Tribunal of Conscience met in Paris to hear the testimony of Agent Orange victims and determine responsibilities. Over 40 years after it was sprayed, Agent Orange is still a daily preoccupation for the Vietnamese.

Our reporters went to the contaminated zones of Vietnam to meet the victims.

By Michaël SZTANKE , Gael Caron , Dung Vo Trung

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