Finding Soldiers Said Top Priority
By Paul Alexander
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000; 12:03 a.m. EDT
Pursuing reports of American soldiers still alive a quarter-century after
the end of the Vietnam War remains the top priority even though 21,000
alleged sightings have failed to pan out, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
Robert L. Jones, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the POW/Missing
Persons Office, said all the reports have been investigated. "None has
borne fruit," he said. "There still remains a lot of work to do in that area."
The number of reports has steadily shrunk since 1973, after Vietnam said
it returned all American prisoners of war, with only one alleged sighting
for all of last year, he told reporters at the end of a four-day visit.
Jones echoed the praise that Defense Secretary William
Cohen gave to
Vietnam when he visited in March and toured a site where U.S. military
forensic experts were working.
"I thank the Vietnamese government and people for everything they have
done," Jones said. "We could not have had the success we have had
without their assistance."
Washington is urging Vietnam to conduct more unilateral searches,
particularly in central Vietnam where some of the fiercest fighting took
place. Those would supplement month long joint operations now held five or
six times each year.
Jones said the U.S. presidential election would not affect Washington's
commitment to account for the 2,014 still listed as MIA 1,514 in
Vietnam; the rest in Cambodia, Laos and China.
"Our methods may change, but we will continue to seek missing Americans
until all of them are accounted for," he said.
Since January 1993, 249 sets of remains have been repatriated and returned
to their families, including 28 since Jan. 1, 1999.
Vietnam has recovered the remains of 2,500 of its 300,000 MIAs with U.S.
assistance, including 800 in the past year after being given access to U.S.
military archives, Jones said.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press
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