The United States has launched a project to decontaminate Vietnamese jungles, where its Army helicopters sprayed the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War nearly four decades ago.
At a ceremony held on Thursday at Danang, a former American airbase in central Vietnam where millions of gallons of Agent Orange were mixed, stored and loaded onto planes, Vietnamese and U.S. officials launched the clean-up operation.
Speaking on the occasion, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear described the clean-up as a "historic milestone," adding that "we are taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past."
The U.S. government is providing $41 million to the project to clean up deposits of the chemical. The project, being carried out by two American companies in co-operation with the Vietnamese Defense Ministry, aims to reduce the contamination level in 73,000 cubic meters of soil by late 2016.
The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other defoliants on trees and vegetation across the south over a ten-year period to expose Communist guerrilla troops who took cover in the forests, and destroy their supplies during the conflict that ended in 1975.
Several decades later, concerns about the health effects from these chemicals continue.
The impoverished South-East Asian country estimates that about three million people have suffered from cancers, birth defects and other ailments due to the effects of the herbicides.
During her 2010 Vietnam visit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pledged to increase American cooperation in working with Vietnam and make even greater progress on the consequences of Agent Orange.
The U.S. clean-up funding is in addition to $60 million it provided to Vietnam for environmental restoration and social services in the country.
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1955 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. The war was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its Communist allies, and the government of South Vietnam, backed by the United States and other anti-Communist countries.
The war ended in a victory for the Communists, costing at least a million lives.
by RTT Staff Writer
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