US servicemen have completed the final field mission to search for comrades who
went missing in Cambodia during the Vietnam war. The remains of only three
soldiers have been positively identified out of 81 searched for, with a further
two cases being tested at the Central Identification Laboratory in
The US operation to search eight aircraft crash sites, which
began in February and involved a team of 50 men and helicopters, is expected to
be the last. The office handling MiA inquiries at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh
is to close later in the year.
Teams could return if families of missing
soldiers or authorities in the US request re-investigations, or if new facts
emerge, said Major Tony Lowe, Commander of Detachment 4 of the Joint Task Force,
"It's been very satisfying, and we've suffered no
serious injuries," said Major Lowe.
"We needed a great deal of planning,
coordination and speed, almost as if we were on a combat mission."
last MiA investigation in Cambodia, which began in February in Takeo, Siem Reap,
Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham, unearthed wreckage in the latter two provinces
and some "unidentifiable" remains.
"Most of the bones found are too
small to be used for DNA testing," explained Lowe, who said the final
investigation was the most dangerous as Khmer Rouge gunfire could often be
The team, split into squads of 16 men, guarded by 250 Cambodian
soldiers, often had to leave sites they were investigating, when it was felt the
guerrillas were getting too close.
Spread over some of the country's
densest forests, many remains have probably decomposed, been moved or washed
away by rain, or damaged by animals, said Lowe.
Often the "remains"
proved to be animal bones or those of non-Americans and several graves, reported
to be of American soldiers, turned out to be dead ends.