U.S., Nations to Discuss MIA/POW Mission
By MARGIE MASON
.c The Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - The United States, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos will meet for the first time to discuss working together to locate and repatriate soldiers who remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, a top U.S. official on recovery efforts said Friday.
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More than 1,850 Americans are still missing from the war, while Vietnam estimates up to 300,000 of its communist soldiers remain unaccounted for. A count has never been given for missing South Vietnamese forces who sided with the United States.
The meeting will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, in October and will focus on the teamwork necessary to locate the missing, said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jerry D. Jennings, who oversees prisoner of war and missing in action affairs.
Jennings made the announcement during his third visit to Vietnam since being appointed to the position in 2001. During his trip, he met with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and other top leaders in Hanoi to push for greater access to archival records.
``We've made progress, but we have a long way to go,'' Jennings said. ``We're seeing progress in terms of the spirit of cooperation.''
Jennings said the United States has been given permission to hire a retired Vietnamese government official to comb through aged records in hopes of finding clues that will shed light on the whereabouts of more than 1,400 American soldiers who remain unaccounted for in Vietnam.
He also said he's looking forward to leads gathered from interviews conducted with former senior Vietnamese military officials.
``There are those who think these wartime leaders are too old to be helpful,'' Jennings said, noting that last year he spoke with Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, 91, the Vietnamese mastermind behind the guerrilla war. ``While his body was very feeble, his mind was very sharp and he shared with me great wisdom that I've taken back and reported to Congress and the Pentagon.''
Jennings also said he will continue to push for more state-of-the-art technology and equipment to assist in the search. Sniffer dogs were recently used for the first time to help look for remains and a new ship capable of assisting with underwater recoveries also has arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese officials were unavailable for comment late Friday.