Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnamese to search for MIAs

Vietnamese to search for MIAs

Vietnamese to search for MIAs

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

MIAs.

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

searches.

"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.

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