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Korean Soldiers & Vietnamese Civilians Sue Dow & Monsanto for Poisoning Them with Herbicide Agent Orange

From: Korea Times

http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/nation/200602/kt2006021517452111970.htm
Koreans, Vietnamese Join Hands for Agent Orange Compensation

By Kim Tong-hyung
Staff Reporter

Korean war veterans and Vietnamese civilians will make joint efforts to seek
compensation from U.S. manufacturers of Agent Orange for their alleged
damage from the defoliant chemical widely used during the Vietnam War.

The retired soldiers and war-zone civilians from both countries have
recently been engaged in legal battles over the harmful effects of Agent
Orange, claiming that exposure to it caused skin disease, diabetes, cancer
and birth defects.

The Korean Victims of Agent Orange Veterans Association (KAOVA) said it will
join a group of Vietnamese civilians to hold a rally in front of the White
House in Washington sometime during April, calling for the U.S. government
to provide a framework for compensation.

The Vietnamese group had their compensation claim rejected by a U.S. federal
court in New York last year, which ruled that there is no proven link
between Agent Orange and the medical conditions suggested by the plaintiffs
such as birth defects, miscarriage and cancer.

The KAOVA said it plans to hold a seminar in Hanoi next month with its
Vietnamese counterpart to discuss their joint efforts for compensation,
which could possibly include further legal actions.

It is the first time that the civilians of both countries have joined
efforts to seek compensation from the U.S. government and its contractors
for wartime damages.

``We hope that our planned rally in Washington will increase international
focus on the people suffering from effects caused by exposure to Agent
Orange,¹¹ said KAOVA spokesman Kang Chang-ub.

``More than one million former soldiers and civilians in Vietnam are
suffering from the effects from Agent Orange, so combining efforts with them
will certainly help our cause,¹¹ he said.

``The recent ruling by the Seoul High Court and other recent studies
acknowledging the chemical¹s association with various medical conditions
will certainly add strength to our call for compensation,¹¹ he said.

According to U.S. government records, the American army used more than 19
million gallons of Agent Orange to spray around Vietnam¹s battlegrounds from
1962 to 1971, hoping to destroy forest cover and undergrowth that shielded
enemy troops from view.

War veterans from Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam, along with a large number of
civilians, claimed they have been suffering from severe medical effects
caused by exposure to chemical.

Korea sent more than 320,000 troops to Vietnam to fight alongside the United
States against the North Vietnamese communist forces during the 1965-73 war,
accounting for the largest outside contribution.

According to the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs, there are more
than 131,000 Koreans who claim they have suffered from illnesses associated
with Agent Orange.

In a landmark decision last month, the Seoul High Court ruled two U.S.
makers of Agent Orange, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, to pay 63 billion won
($62 million) to a group of 6,700 Korean war veterans who first filed
lawsuits against the U.S. companies in 1999.

The court associated Agent Orange with 11 types of medical conditions,
including non-Hodgkin¹s lymphoma, Hodgkin¹s disease, prostate cancer and
diabetes.

It also added that the defoliants produced by the U.S. companies contained
dioxins, toxic substances known to cause cancer in humans, in excess of
permitted levels.

However, the ruling had more of a symbolic value than actual impact, as
there is little Korean authorities could do should the U.S. chemical makers
refuse to abide by the court orders, since both companies have no listed
properties in Korea.

Although Korean authorities could seize the patent rights owned by the U.S.
companies, their combined value is believed to be minuscule compared with
the 63 billion won the High Court ordered in compensation.

If the U.S. companies refuse to pay the plaintiffs, the Korean war veterans
will have to take their legal battle to the United States for possible
compensation. However, a U.S. court has already rejected a compensation
claim by Korean war veterans in 1994.

Over contentious lawsuits in past years, a U.S. court has never associated
Agent Orange with health problems other than minor skin disorders, citing
the lack of scientific proof that the defoliant was linked serious
conditions such as cancer and birth defects.

In 1984, seven U.S. chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto,
paid out $180 million won to U.S. war veterans who claimed that they
suffered medical conditions caused by Agent Orange.

However, it was settlement reached after a federal judge persuaded the
companies to buy themselves out of protracted litigation, with none of them
admitting of doing anything wrong.

In rejecting the claims of the Vietnamese groups last year, the U.S. federal
court also ruled that the chemical companies cannot be held liable for the
medical damages since they were ordered by the U.S. government to produce
Agent Orange.

KAOVA officials hope that new scientific evidence gathered over the years
about the dangers of Agent Orange could provide them some hope in possible
court battles in the future.

thkim@koreatimes.co.kr
02-15-2006 17:45

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