Vietnam says Kerrey committed "a crime in wartime"
By David Brunnstrom
HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam on Thursday carefully avoided describing the
killing of civilians 32 years ago by a squad led by former U.S. Senator Bob
Kerrey as a "war crime", but said it was "a crime committed during wartime".
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said Vietnam respected the
accounts given by local villagers of the February 25, 1969, attack on the
Mekong Delta hamlet of Thanh Phong, but said Kerrey's tormented conscience
should be punishment enough.
"We consider what happened that night a crime," she said. "The local people
have already told very clearly what happened."
Asked whether given the villagers accounts, Vietnam considered the acts of
Kerrey's squad "war crimes", she replied: "This is a crime committed during
Villagers who said they were survivors of the attack told Western
journalists at the weekend Kerrey's Navy Seal squadron killed at least 20
Vietnamese civilians, mostly women and children, in cold blood.
Kerrey has acknowledged that the killing of civilians took place, but he
said the squad was returning fire and did not know civilians had been killed
until after the fighting. He has already flatly denied the squad acted with
Survivor Bui Thi Luom, 44, said the victims of the massacre were 13
children, six women, at least one pregnant, and a man in his 60s. She said
the U.S. squad ordered 16 villagers out of a shelter and opened fire on them
A second survivor, Pham Thi Lanh, 62, said she saw in dim moonlight an
elderly couple killed with cuts to the throat and later found the bodies of
their three young grandchildren, stabbed to death.
The women said there were no communist Viet Cong guerrillas in the area and
there was no shooting apart from that from the Americans.
Asked if Kerrey deserved punishment, Thanh indicated that Vietnam, which is
pushing hard to expand its trade and economic ties with the United States,
did not expect this.
"The hardest suffering for a person is a tormented conscience. And we
understand that in some of his talks to the press Mr Bob Kerrey also showed
remorse," she said.
"As we have said, our nation retains a tradition of reconciliation and
"We think the best thing Mr Bob Kerrey can do now is to take realistic and
concrete actions to contribute to healing the wounds caused by the war in
which he was involved and committed crime."
Kerrey has been among the U.S. politicians who have pushed hardest for
post-war reconciliation with Vietnam.
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