Tag Archives: Vietnam

Vietnam to reveal studies of dioxin-infected people

VIETNAMNET, JULY 13, 2006
VietNamNet – Vietnamese scientists will present the findings of a study on changes in blood, gene and immune systems of those people who were exposed to dioxin at an international conference on dioxin studies.
This information was revealed by Dr. Le Ke Son, from the National Steering Board in charge of toxic chemical-involved issues, at a talk of the aftermaths of toxic chemicals sprayed by the US military held in Ha Noi on July 12.
According to Son, the findings of another study on war veteran’s diseases will also be presented at the conference scheduled to be held in Oslo, Norway, from Aug. 21-26, with participation of about 1,000 scientists from all over the world.
The official said, the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs will coordinate with relevant agencies to conduct a national survey of Agent Orange/dioxin victims in order to issue a policy on provision of State allowances to third-generation victims.
During the Vietnam war, the US military sprayed at least 80 million litres of defoliant, including 1 tonne of dioxin over the south of Vietnam from August 1961 to July 1971.
According to the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, about 3 million Vietnamese people are AO victims out of 4.8 million people exposed to the toxic chemicals.

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Visiting the homeland of the Ta Oi

HUU NGOC, VIET NAM NEWS, JULY 9, 2006
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The Ta Oi, one of the 53 ethnic minorities of Viet Nam, has a population of 35,000, of which 26,000 live in A Luoi District (or 66 per cent of the district’s population). A Luoi is a name that evokes sinister memories of two Indochina wars: An important area on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the district is located in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue — the scene of bloody combat and the target of continuous US bombing raids during the American War. It was also the biggest victim of Agent Orange sprayed by the US air force.
Our car stopped in the main town. We were expecting to see a small town in the middle of a former no-man’s-land, but instead we saw a brand-new urban centre traversed by a highway replacing a path through the forest.
We profit from the brief stop to meet the Ta Oi who, before the Revolution of 1945 and along with all of the ethnic minority populations of the highlands of the south were named Moi (Savages). For half a century, they had been acquiring an individuality and socio-political equality with other ethnic groups, all the while fighting side-by-side for national independence. We don’t find Moi ca rang cang tai (savages with sawed and filed teeth, and with stretched earlobes) any more. These practices formed part of the personal aesthetics and initiation rites of ancient Ta Oi tribes. They were performed when people reached the age of 13, to mark their passage into adulthood and the possibility of marriage. The operation, always performed on three candidates at a time, was done near a stream. The concerned person, whether a boy or a girl, had his/her mouth widened by passing a piece of bamboo between the two rows of teeth. Laying down, the person was immobilised by people clenching his head and sitting astride his stomach and legs. One person would cut six teeth in the upper jaw and six others in the lower jaw with a serrated sword, which caused very intense pain. The operation on the ears was less painful. A grapefruit thorn was used to pierce the earlobes, and then short pieces of silver of increasing size were placed in the holes. A married woman wore silver rings the radius of a chopstick. After 30 years, the rings increased to the size of a little finger. The bigger the rings, the more beautiful and elegant the woman. Men could also have ear piercings done, or chose not to.
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As strange as this concept of beauty may appear (concerning the teeth and the ears), the Ta Oi by contrast show a refined aesthetic in other domains: popular festivals, dress, food, dance, music and storytelling.
Let’s take traditional dress as an example. The pride of the culture is zeng fabric. A piece of zeng serves to make skirts for women and loincloths for men. They serve also as a monetary unit to barter for buffaloes, cows, gongs and silver coins. The friendly Pa Ko and Ka Tu tribes get supplies of zeng from the Ta Oi.
The making of zeng is above all an art. The threads are made up of a special type of cotton obtained from the wild cotton plant called kapas, which is transplanted in mountain fields. The vegetable-based dying process is very time-consuming because it depends a lot on the humidity. Blacks and the blues are obtained from infusions of the plant tardon and special shells. Yellow is produced by the roots of the dang dang plant which grows deep in the forest. To get red, one must trade with the Lao people.
Because of the sophisticated marriage of colours and wealth of motifs, the weaving of zeng demands a lot of skill and time, especially given that the technique is still very much a cottage industry. The dominant colour is black, which forms the base of all the designs and motifs. Five colours are used: Blue, white, red, yellow and above all, black. They are set off by artificial pearls. The fringes of the woven cloth are adorned with little spherical sparkling silver and copper bells. The weaving motifs, about 60 in all, are valued as powerful cosmological symbols: They represent the universe, myths, legends and history, genies and spirits. The ngkang kating assimilates the trunk of the secular tree kating with two zigzagging parallel lines that represent the Parsee slope (Slope of love), site of an unhappy love between a poor young man and a daughter of a rich man. The “leech of the mountain” motif is an image representing a cruel sorcerer in a fairy tale. Other motifs represent animals or parts of the body: swallow’s tail, rooster’s spur and objects of everyday use like a jar of hot chili, weapons, traps, plants, flowers, leaves, Father Sky and Mother Earth and the North Star. But man doesn’t have more than a fleeting representation, as a dancer at a popular festival.
All the motifs are governed by geometric traits, which amply describe the high degree of abstraction and stylisation of the Ta Oi. The decorations on a skirt or jacket tell us a lot about their concepts of life and the lives of the mountain people in A Luoi. — VNS

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Vietnamese wildlife still paying a high price for chemical warfare

JESSIE KING, THE INDEPENDENT, JULY 8, 2006
Forty years on, much of the environmental damage caused to Vietnam by American forces during the Vietnam War has still not been repaired, according to a new study.
In particular, the effects of the massive amounts of chemical defoliants sprayed from the air to destroy the jungle hiding places of the Vietcong guerrillas are still being felt, says the study, the first comprehensive account of Vietnam’s natural history written in English.
Between 1961 and 1971, more than 20 million gallons of herbicides, the most notorious being “Agent Orange”, were sprayed by the US to defoliate forests, clear growth along the borders of military sites and eliminate enemy crops.
Some of the herbicides also contained dioxins – compounds potentially harmful to people and wildlife – while one, “Agent Blue” – used mainly for crop destruction – was made up mainly of an organic arsenic compound. Repeated applications of the chemicals “sometimes eradicated all vegetation”, according to the study – Vietnam: A Natural History – and the environment has still not recovered in many places. Weedy plant species such as alang-alang (also known as cogon or American grass) often invaded cleared areas, killing other plants and preventing normal regeneration of the forest. “In many areas, these weeds continue to dominate the landscape decades after the defoliants were sprayed,” says the study.
As the spray was often concentrated along strategic waterways, it is believed to have had a long-term impact on wetlands and riverside vegetation. Scientists are finding that dioxins still surface in freshwater animals. The study adds: “In addition to effects on individuals, the defoliants undoubtedly modified species distribution patterns through habitat degradation and loss, particularly in wetland systems.”
Direct attempts to eradicate Vietnam’s forests were not the only military activities to affect its environment. The estimated 14 million tons of bombs or cluster-bombs dropped on to northern and southern Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia left an estimated 10 to 15 million large bomb craters.
In addition to the effects of these bombs, the impact of napalm, land mines, and other wartime technology on Vietnam’s biological communities must also be taken into account, says the study.
It has been written by three wildlife specialists at the American Museum of Natural History – Eleanor Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley and the Vietnamese expert Le Duc Minh. They say: “A country uncommonly rich in plants, animals and natural habitats, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam shelters a significant portion of the world’s biological diversity, including rare and unique organisms and an unusual mixture of tropical and temperate species.”
Most remarkably of all, in the past 15 years a whole suite of species hitherto unknown to science has been discovered in Vietnam, deep in jungles where scientific access had been made impossible by the war.
They include the saola, a large hoofed mammal of an entirely new genus – an antelope-like wild ox which is the world’s largest land-dwelling animal discovered since 1937.
Vietnam: A Natural History is published by Yale University Press

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A story of triumph for congenitally joined twin

NGUOI LAO DONG, THANNIENNEWS.COM, TRANSLATED BY MINH PHAT
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Nguyen Duc and his betrothed Thanh Tuyen
Once congenitally joined with his brother allegedly due to Agent Orange, one of the twins is set to marry this December at 25 years of age, famed after being successfully separated in 1988.
The success of the operation finally gave Nguyen Duc a new and independent life after being joined at the pelvis with a common digestive tract and three legs between the two boys.
Duc came out of the operation with the only operable leg, and finds himself in love, and ready to get married.
Duc and his girlfriend Nguyen Thi Thanh Tuyen often visit his home in Hoa Binh Village (Village of Peace) hostel [attached to Ho Chi Minh City’s obstetrics hospital Tu Du] to visit his twin brother Nguyen Viet, who was render immobile by the operation.
Duc is computer technology specialist who works as administrative staff for the Tu Du hospital where he has received a wealth of support from the beginning.
He now has a monthly salary of VND1.9 million (US$119), solid take-home pay for a disabled person in Vietnam.
Duc said he met his girlfriend Tuyen in April 2004 after the two had joined the Red Cross society to do charitable work and raise money and provide assistance for others in Hoa Binh Village.
Doctor Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan, director of the Hoa Binh Village said Duc is an example of the fact that anything is possible in life, an energetic man despite his disposition.
“Duc has persevered since he was young,” recalled the doctor.
“From a weak little boy, Duc struggled to overcome illness and obstacles to become a man with great computer skills and now marriage.”
Duc said his wedding party will be organized on December 16, 2006 at Bao Tran restaurant in the city-based Thuong Xa Tax shopping center in District 1 on Nguyen Hue street.
The wedding party is to be sponsored by Japanese company, Yasaka.

Historic operation

In 1981, a young woman in Sa Thay district of Kon Tum province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, gave birth to the unusually deformed twins, which has been attributed to coming in contact with Agent Orange.
Kon Tum, where the twin’s mother had lived during American War was an area that the Americans sprayed heavily from 1962 to 1970 with the herbicide that contains the highly toxic and stable chemical called dioxin – the source of Agent Orange causing deformities.
Seven years later, twin Viet contracted encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain, and doctors decided to separate them to prevent the other healthy boy from contracting the disease.
The operation started on October 4, 1988 at the Tu Du hospital with a squad of leading Vietnamese and Japanese surgeons and lasted some 12 hours, with Japan providing the expertise, tools and technical equipment.
The success of the operation was a first in Vietnam and only the seventh of its kind in the world.
After the operation, Duc traveled to Japan many times for rehabilitation operations, availing him his present healthy state.
The surgery gave Duc a better life, while his brother Viet suffers from brain shrinkage and has been bed-ridden his whole life.
Viet doesn’t even flinch when his twin brother climbs awkwardly onto the bed next to him.
Duc opined, “we are the victims of Agent Orange and I think the United States must pay compensation to help those people who were victims of the war.”
Doctors said the twins are representative of the third generation victims of Agent Orange.

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Moved by guilt over Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans vow help

LOUIS HANSEN, THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT, May 28, 2006
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Retired Navy Capt. Allen “Wes” Weseleskey, 70, of Virginia Beach spent 14 months in Vietnam flying helicopters along rivers, providing cover for patrols. He was awarded the Navy Cross and other honors. VICKI CRONIS/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
VIRGINIA BEACH – Retired Navy Capt. Allen “Wes” Weseleskey and his fellow helicopter pilots picked up odd assignments during their wartime tour in Vietnam.
Some of those duties seemed safer than others – such as flying protection alongside Air Force planes as they doused the triple canopy jungles with the herbicide Agent Orange to deny cover for the enemy.
Four decades later, though, the Navy men share regrets about their role in the mission known as Operation Ranch Hand. Buddies went sterile. They’ve been stricken with diabetes or leukemia. Their children have been born with deformed spines.
For some veterans, as their own ailments swelled, so did guilt. Now they’re doing something about it.
Weseleskey, who lives in Virginia Beach, and a small group of other Vietnam War vets have raised more than $20,000 in the past year to provide medical relief for suffering Vietnamese children.
They hope to bring comfort to a place where they once fought, and perhaps find peace for themselves.
“I’d like to say I don’t feel guilty,” said Weseleskey, who received the Navy Cross for valor during a March 1968 firefight. “But I can’t say that.”
After the war, the men stayed in touch. Some joined the Seawolf Association, a veterans group for certain Vietnam helicopter pilots and crew. They had shared river combat in the Mekong Delta – some flew helicopters while others directed boat operations in the small waterways – which drew them tight.
Peter Shay spent a year in Vietnam as a junior lieutenant, piloting a Seawolf helicopter and providing cover for river boat units.
Shay held on to his combat memories even as he progressed in his civilian career in marketing. He wanted to return to Vietnam, in part to start efforts to recover fellow helicopter crew members missing in action.
Until recently, going back to the Southeast Asian country was difficult. The Communist-backed North Vietnamese seized control of the divided country two years after U.S. troops left their South Vietnamese allies and have remained in power. In 1986, the Vietnamese government began to loosen restrictions on foreign travel and investment.
About six years ago, Shay made his trip back. “It was tough to go back the first time,” said Shay, now retired and living in New York City.
Shay returned several times, met former allies and enemies, and embraced a new culture. “I don’t know how any people could hate them.”
In June 2004, Shay organized a conference in New York with some other vets and officers from the former South and North Vietnamese armies.
The Navy pilots wanted the Vietnamese to help them discover what had happened to two missing airmen. The Vietnamese agreed but asked something in return: help in coping with the effects of Agent Orange contamination .
The request struck a chord with the American vets. It brought them together with their long-held regret over having participated in the Agent Orange program.
The two sides promised to help each other.
The military estimates that nearly 10 percent of Vietnam was sprayed with herbicide between 1961 and 1971. Nineteen million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were dropped on the Vietnamese .
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, exposure to Agent Orange is known to cause such maladies as certain types of acne, diabetes, nerve disorders, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and rare forms of prostate and respiratory cancers. Symptoms can take years to emerge.
Researchers also have found a link between the birth defect spina bifida, an abnormality of the spine and brain, among the children of vets exposed to the chemical.
Steven Stellman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said the Vietnamese probably have faced health problems similar to those of American vets.
Stellman, who has researched Agent Orange exposure for more than a decade, estimated as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly sprayed with herbicide.
Jerry Wages spent 34 years in the Navy, including 14 months leading a riverine combat group in the Mekong Delta. The 77-year-old retired captain has seen friends suffer and lose battles with cancer.
Wages’ doctors say he has the early stages of a rare leukemia likely caused by his exposure during riverine duty in the jungles. He shrugs it off. “It’s not real bad at this time,” Wages said from his Florida home.
Weseleskey and Shay also were exposed, during ground and aerial missions, although neither has shown symptoms.
“I got lucky,” Weseleskey said.
Other veterans in the Seawolf Association rejected the suggestion of helping Vietnamese children. Despite Vietnam’s improved relations with the United States, many veterans “feel we shouldn’t be helping our former enemy,” Weseleskey said.
“A lot of people won’t do this,” Shay said. “A lot of them still have ghosts in the closet.”
The men broke from the Seawolf Association and started an independent charity.
The organization – known as the Seawolf Agent Orange Relief Effort Foundation – has drummed up support mostly from other vets. Contributions have trickled in. Wages’ daughter requested donations to the charity rather than gifts for her wedding. Guests raised $7,000.
The men want to establish new cardiac operating rooms in major hospitals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the former capitals of North and South Vietnam, respectively. Each will cost about $30,000 to install and equip.
“We’ll have a continual need to help the kids in the delta,” Wages said. “Little things – toothbrushes, vitamins.”
Shay also returned to Vietnam with an American heart surgeon and used the donations to pay for heart surgery for an 11-year-old Vietnamese boy.
The men are unsure whether the defects are directly caused by Agent Orange, but they still feel a responsibility. They have no firm plans to travel back to Vietnam, but they expect to return.
For Weseleskey, 70 , it would be his first trip back since the war. “It’s been a difficult thing,” he said. The charity, he added, “is a venting valve.”
Reach Louis Hansen at (757) 446-2322 or louis.hansen@pilotonline.com.

HOW TO HELP

For Agent Orange Relief Foundation information, go to www.saoref.org.

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