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Updated: March 17, 2002 05:00 PM GMT
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A priest who founded a home for disabled children has welcomed the first U.S.-Vietnam conference on Agent Orange, a toxic chemical used by the United States during the Vietnam War.

Father Phan Khac Tu, founder of a center for disabled children in Ho Chi Minh City, expressed hope that the conference would encourage people to pay more attention to the disabled and their families.

He noted that the government does not give any financial aid to Agent Orange victims in his center.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. forces sprayed Agent Orange, a defoliant, over jungles. Dioxin, a toxic component of Agent Orange still found at dangerous levels of concentration in parts of Vietnam, is blamed for a variety of illnesses, including birth defects, nervous disorders and cancer.

There are over 1 million Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, including some 150,000 children, according to the Vietnam Red Cross.

The March 3-6 conference in Ha Noi, jointly organized by VietnamĀ“s Ministry of Health and the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, highlighted the role the United States could play in reducing and eliminating the damage caused by the chemical.

Phan Thuy Thanh, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a March 7 press conference, "The United States should show spiritual and moral responsibility by helping alleviate the aftermath of war."

While Vietnam and the United States are conducting scientific studies on the effects of Agent Orange, the United States should offer humanitarian help for victims in Vietnam, she added.

The conference, which drew about 400 scientists from 17 countries, compiled 96 reports on the effects of Agent Orange and dioxin on human health and the environment.

State-run media said these reports focused on research studies related to cancers and disorders in the endocrine and reproductive systems.

Scientists also discussed techniques to analyze dioxin and its ecological effects, and ways to remove residues of the chemical from the soil.

However, Le Cao Dai, executive director of the Fund for Agent Orange Victims, noted that some American scientists denied any links between Agent Orange and cancers and reproductive disorders.

Sources close to the Vietnamese government said March 7 that Vietnamese and American scientists will collaborate in future research projects in Vietnam and sponsor research work in both countries.


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