HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- The mayor of this city, once known as Saigon, called yesterday for full reconciliation with the United States and for ending the controversies as to whether any American servicemen are still missing in action in Vietnam.
Truong Tan Sang, whose official title is chairman of the People's Committee, said at a news conference, and in later remarks, that the Vietnamese "cannot understand why this [MIA] issue continues to stand between the United States and Vietnam. Do you really think we would purposely keep living prisoners of war, or their remains, from their families all these years?
"Americans must realize," he asserted, "that our country in all those years of fighting had 300,000 MIAs. So if you want to weigh suffering, our widows and orphans have suffered deeply."
The 46-year-old one-time member of the resistance movement -- speaking two days before the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon -- was asked about the difficulty his government faces in balancing ceremonies this weekend marking the war's end and the reunification of Vietnam with the country's conscious desire not to alienate the Americans.
"I think for any country, [reunification] day is a sacred day, particularly for our people who endured difficult years to reach that glorious April 30th," he said. "We celebrate it as a milestone in our history, of defending the country. But as far as relations between Vietnam and the U.S., our leaders are ready to bury the past and look forward to better relations for both peoples."
Mayor Sang insisted that not only is his government not detaining any American prisoners of war or their remains, but that there also are no soldiers or officials of the South Vietnamese government still in "re-education" prison camps.
He added, plaintively, that "as far as normalizing relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, the ball is in the U.S. court."