US gov't says MIA documentary has wrong man

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John Hartley Robertson shown in Unclaimed, a new documentary featuring a man who claims to be the soldier who went missing 44 years go.

The US Defense Department says that a US serviceman lost in the Vietnam War, the subject of a controversial documentary, remains unaccounted for.

The man who claimed to be that very American soldier, missing since his helicopter was shot down during the war, is actually Vietnamese,  the department's Missing Personnel Office said in a statement sent Thursday to Thanh Nien News  through  the US embassy in Hanoi.

"All claims and alleged live sighting reports related to Robertson have been investigated and found to be false," the statement said.

The statement came after Canadian film "Unclaimed" generated a lot of interest after it premiered last month.

The film features a main who claims to be Sergeant 1st Class John Hartley Robertson, listed as missing in action 44 years ago.

It said the person had approached US government officials with the same claim years earlier.

The US government collected his fingerprints and hair samples in 2009.

"The FBI analyzed the fingerprints and they were determined not to match Robertson's fingerprints on file," the statement said.

It said the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also found that the mitochondrial DNA sequences from his hair samples "did not match either of Robertson's siblings."

The samples were compared to those taken from Robertson's brother and one of his sisters.

The US department said officials had interviewed the person twice, in April 2006 and 2009, after they received alleged live sighting reports including photographs and a videotape depicting the person claiming to be Robertson. 

A tightly edited trailer for the movie, posted on production company Myth Merchant Films' website, does not show any clear full-face images of the Vietnamese man, known by the name Dang Ngoc Than, AFP reported Thursday.

The newswire quoted  the film's promotional material as saying that the documentary follows Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce as he tries to find the "true identity of a man claiming to be an American Special Forces MIA still living in a remote Vietnamese village."

]The film-makers in a post on their Facebook page said the movie was not "produced to help perpetrate fraud of any kind or misrepresent anyone's identity", AFP reported.

On May 1, one day after the documentary was screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, British newspaper The Independent also reported part of a memo from a 2009 report by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office that said the man was actually "a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans."

Robertson has been missing May 20, 1968 when a Vietnamese Air Force helicopter that he was on came under heavy ground fire in Laos before it exploded and crashed, the department said, noting that US service members who witnessed the crash reported there were no survivors.

A Military Review Board in 1976 changed Robertson's status from "Missing in Action" to "Presumptive Finding of Death" after reevaluating his case, "which meant that Robertson was deceased," the statement said.

Any person proven to be Robertson would be entitled to back pay and veterans' benefits from the US government.

Nearly 60,000 American soldiers died in the Vietnam War, which also killed around three million Vietnamese people.

When it ended in 1975, 1,971 Americans were left unaccounted for, according to figures from the US Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command cited in an AFP report.

Statistics have estimated that around 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers are still listed as missing in action.

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