An agreement struck between Vietnam and Cambodia will see a return of Vietnamese
troops to Cambodian soil by the end of 2001 in search of the remains of Vietnamese
Cambodian General Pol Saroeun and Vietnamese Lt. General Nguyen Van Rinh signed an
Action Plan to effect the agreement in Hanoi on May 22.
The Action Plan (AP) is designed to implement an agreement signed between the two
governments in August 2000 which goes by the unwieldy title of "Agreement Between
Committee of the SRV government and Committee of the KOC on Accounting, Exhumation
and Repatriation of the Remains of the Vietnamese Volunteer Soldiers Who Lost Their
Life During Wartime in Cambodia."
Untold thousands of Vietnamese troops are believed to have been killed in action
in Cambodia battling a combination of Cambodian, South Vietnamese, American and later
Khmer Rouge forces from the late 1960s until the end of the Vietnamese occupation
of the country in 1989.
The AP scales down the most controversial aspect of the original plan which allowed
for Vietnamese troops conducting MIA search missions in the Kingdom to be armed.
Point four of the original 10-point agreement spelled out the Vietnamese team's right
to carry "individual weapons for self defense to guarantee their safety."
However Vietnamese Embassy Attaché Chu Dong Loc said that Vietnamese soldiers
would not be armed on Cambodian territory and that the Cambodian military would be
responsible for ensuring their safety.
The agreement provides for the supply of armed escorts by the Cambodian government
for traveling in "dangerous and remote areas."
Dong Loc, who described the operation as an extension of MIA searches underway in
Vietnam for many years, said that a firm date hasn't been set for the start of Cambodian
operations. However the AP provides for a 2001 - December 2005 time frame for MIA
"We've been searching for Vietnamese soldiers missing in action in the French
war and in the war against the US," Dong Loc said. "Millions of Vietnamese
soldiers have been sacrificed and it's a very difficult operation because it covers
such a large area of forest and mountains."
According to Dong Loc, the size and duration of regional conflicts involving Vietnam
made it impossible to estimate the number of Vietnamese troops whose remains may
be in Cambodia.
"It's very difficult to know the exact number of Vietnamese soldiers who've
died in Cambodia because it's been such a long period of conflict," he said.
Dong Loc said the agreement was a significant achievement to cement bilateral ties
between Vietnam and Cambodia.
"We regard this as a humanitarian issue and it's very important [because] all
the relatives of the soldiers who were killed in the war want the remains to be repatriated
[and] want the remains to be in their village and near their house," he said.
While Dong Loc said that a search area was yet to be delineated, the original draft
would see the Vietnamese MIA search operations in 13 provinces as well as Phnom Penh.