Vietnam helpful on MIAs, senators say after trip

November 22, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- U.S. senators investigating th fate of Americans missing in Vietnam said yesterday that they had received significant cooperation from the Vietnamese in their mission and called on President Bush to ease the economic embargo against the country in return.

At the end of a five-day visit that included trips to secluded prisons, once-secret military installations and war museums, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs, was sent home with a bouquet of red roses and a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol that belonged to a U.S. serviceman during the Vietnam War for return to his relatives. The soldier's name was etched in the yellowed ivory handle.

A decorated war veteran, Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, warned that if the Vietnamese were not soon shown "reciprocity" by the U.S. government for their cooperation, "there's a point where you can exhaust your welcome and frankly hurt the process."

But Mr. Kerry and Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, were careful to reassure Republicans on the committee that they were not pressing for an immediate normalization of relations with Vietnam, a move widely believed to be under consideration in Washington.

The two countries have had no formal relations since the war ended in 1975 and the United States imposed a complete economic embargo, including a ban on loans from international organizations such as the World Bank.

"We're not talking about normalization, that's further down the road," Mr. Kerry said. "But there has to be some movement on the embargo. Otherwise this process will grind to a halt."

The Senate Select Committee, formed last year, is winding up its one-year mandate with a week of hearings in mid-December and a report on its investigations into the fate of 2,265 U.S. servicemen still unaccounted for in the war.

During the visit Mr. Kerry, Mr. Daschle and Sen. Hank Brown, a Colorado Republican, who returned to the United States on Thursday, presented the Vietnamese with a list of 18 outstanding "live sighting" cases in which investigators have received credible reports of Caucasian or black males either in captivity or living in the Vietnamese countryside.

The senators, who also visited Laos on their trip, investigated four live-sighting cases at Vietnamese prisons, including the infamous interrogation center in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) that was once operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. The building is now a temporary jail, and its director told Mr. Kerry that the jail has had only one American prisoner, a businessman arrested in 1990.

Mr. Kerry said he had received promises from the Vietnamese that the remaining 14 cases will be investigated by Dec. 10.

The POW-MIA hunt is essentially a two-phase investigation: to look into reports of sightings, and to study remains, photographs or other evidence that would allow investigators to declare a missing person dead.

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