National Press Club

Landmines a Continuing Problem in Vietnam, Retired General Says

March 1, 2010 | By Bob Weiner | weinerpublic@comcast.net

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Vietnamese veterans of the war with the U.S. embrace an attitude of reconciliation and mutual respect, members of U.S. veterans who visited Vietnam reported. But unexploded land mines are "a contionuing disastger," said delegation leader retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

McCaffrey and Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, headed the 26-member delegation that included U.S. Vietnam veterans and their families. They reported on the trip at a Feb. 26 Newsmaker.

"It's time to heal the scars of war. It is time for reconciliation,” McCaffrrey said.

He said the delegation had an emotional meeting with former Vietnam veterans who had been opposing combatants.

"We can report a spirit of reconciliation and mutual respect. Both sides understand that they were caught up in the U.S. global confrontation at the time with aggressive communism," McCaffrey said.

But "the mine situation is a continuing disaster. We observed and supported demining operations. As part Project Renew, the delegation received and announced a $1 million U.S. government grant to conduct demining activities."

McCaffrey said more than 1,000 Vietnamese a year are killed or injured by unexploded military munitions and that 350,000 metric tons remain. About 40% are Vietnamese, 60% U.S.

McCaffrey also said that “while Vietnam has modernized dramatically and increased its economy with entrepreneurial activity and external investment, serious problems remain. Vietnam is still an authoritarian, totalitarian state. Only recently are they entering the world’s economic and business model.

“It is haunting to imagine the world that might have existed if the U.S. had immediately recognized the new government in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam,” he said.