When I land at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City on July 29, I know I will be met by friends who have suffered a great wrong. They are the victims who have fought an ongoing battle against one of the world's most egregious crimes: the dumping of 80 million litters of toxic defoliants over southern Vietnam.
I look forward to meeting them each time I visit this great country.
They are children saddled with crippling deformities and life-threatening illnesses. But they are also parents and grandparents who must provide round-the-clock care to these children. Let us not forget the brothers and sisters of the victims. They too must grow up amidst the painful struggle that this legacy has spawned.
In my 22 years of visiting this beautiful country, I have come to befriend thousands of victims. I think, particularly, of the youngsters, born years after the spraying and the war ended. In my opinion there cannot be a greater crime than to ignore such a legacy.
The evil legacy of Agent Orange has entered into the fourth generation and casualties have run into the millions.
But now, as the 50th anniversary of the dawn of the chemical campaign nears, I believe it is time to act.
On August 8, 9 and 10 stake-holders will meet in Hanoi to discuss the future of this terrible chapter in history. Advocates, who continue to push the American chemical compa-nies and the US government to accept responsibility for the indiscriminate production and use of Agent Orange, will be at the meeting.
So far, we have failed, and we have to admit it.
But we have a unique chance to make a statement now.
As a long-time friend to Vietnam and its victims, I can only recommend that the people of Ho Chi Minh City should petition the local authorities to close down the offices of Monsanto and Dow Chemical. I would ask that these offices remain closed until the companies compensate the victims, and their families.
During my visits to Vietnam and to it many provinces, I have met countless victims of this dastardly poison who are living in abject poverty. Many of these communities lack adequate hospitals, clinics and care centers.
Vietnam cannot solve this problem alone. It needs international support and aid to overcome this terrible legacy.
What can we, as friends of Vietnam, do outside of the country?
We can, and should demand an international embargo on all products created by the companies that manufactured Agent Orange. Monsanto and Dow Chemical reaped unimaginable profits from churning out this poison. It is time they paid that money to the victims.
By Len Aldis (*)
(*) Len Aldis is Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society. He has worked for years to spread awareness about the plight of Vietnam's Agent Orange victims.