Friday, February 25, 2005

Vietnam Looks to Win Agent Orange Law Suit

It is a classroom full of sunlight in Vietnam's southern
city formerly known as Saigon, with Mickey Mouse and
Donald Duck painted on the wall overlooking several

But one pupil writes with a pencil held between his
toes, another cannot close her smiling mouth properly
and the oldest of them, Tran Thi Hoan, wheels herself in
and out as her legs have no calves.

They are residents of Ho Chi Minh City's Peace Village
2, a state project set up in 1990 from a ward of Tu Du
Maternity Hospital to help disabled children, mostly
victims of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange.

On Monday, a New York court will begin hearing a lawsuit
brought by more than 100 Vietnamese seeking compensation
and a clean-up of contaminated areas from more than 30
firms, among them Dow Chemical Co and Monsanto Co, the
largest makers of Agent Orange.

It is the first time Vietnamese have sought legal
redress since the Vietnam War ended in April 1975.

"I wish the suit will end with a victory so that the
life of the victims like me could be materially better,"
said Hoan, a 10th-grade student who came to the Peace
Village from the central province of Binh Thuan.

She was also born with no left palm. Hoan's younger
brother died at birth as he had no peritoneum, Hoan

Dr Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan, head of the Peace Village,
said many of her patients suffered from severe physical
defects, while others face chromosome disorder.

"Most of their children were born and grew up in areas
sprayed with the Agent Orange defoliant during the war
in Vietnam," Tan, also member of the Ho Chi Minh City's
committee for Agent Orange victims, told Reuters

U.S. forces sprayed an estimated 20 million gallons of
herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam between
1962 and 1971 to deny food and jungle cover to the
Vietnamese communists, but the chemical remained in the
water and soil decades later.

Agent Orange, named after the color of its containers,
is blamed for nightmarish birth defects in Vietnam where
babies appeared with two heads or without eyes or arms.
U.S. veterans of the war have complained for years of a
variety of health problems from exposure to the

Dioxin, the toxic compound in Agent Orange, has been
shown to cause cancer, birth defects and organ

Vietnam has 12 peace villages and 500 clinics nationwide
to help its 3 million Agent Orange victims.

It is unclear whether the Vietnamese plaintiffs will
succeed, but there are precedents in a 1984 agreement by
Dow and Monsanto to pay $180 million to U.S. veterans.
The U.S. government has refused consistently to discuss

A U.S. lawyer representing the Vietnamese said those
rallying behind the trial included U.S. veterans made
sick by the chemical.

Nguyen Duc, 25, a Peace Village patient who now works
there and is among the Vietnamese bringing the New York
suit, has a twin brother who has been confined to bed
since the 1988 operation in which doctors separated the
twins sharing two legs.

"The U.S. government should pay for their mistakes," Duc
said, sitting in his wheelchair.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Stick and carrot : Japan tells China gas fields in E. China Sea may stretch to its EEZ

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa
said Tuesday the Japanese government has told Chinese
officials that China's resource development in two gas
fields in the East China Sea may affect natural
resources in Japan's exclusive economic zone based on an
interim report on a Japanese government geophysical

Speaking at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting,
Nakagawa said the Japanese government has explained to
China the findings of the resource survey in the East
China Sea.

"We will definitely call on China to stop its (resources
development) work," he said, stressing Japan's stance is
based on the survey data.

The two gas fields, including the Chunxiao field, lie
several kilometers from what Tokyo claims is a median
line in the sea on the Chinese side.

China does not recognize the median line, and argues
that its economic waters stretch to a larger extent than
that designated by Japan.

Princess Aiko second in line to Japanese throne.

Japan will prepare for a reigning empress for
the first time in over 200 years as the government
drafts legal changes allowing female succession, a
report said on Monday.

Kyodo News quoted an unnamed government official as
saying 'Princess Aiko will go next' after Crown Prince
Naruhito in line for the throne. The report did not give
other details.

Telephones at the prime minister's office rang
unanswered late on Monday.

Princess Aiko, 3, is the only child of Crown Prince
Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.

Current Japanese law bars women from ascending the
throne. However, no boy has been born to the imperial
family since the 1960s, creating the country's deepest
succession crisis in centuries.

A government panel of experts began debating an
amendment to the law last month but is not due to reach
a conclusion until later this year. Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi is expected to act on their

Parliament would also need to approve a change in the

Recent polls have placed public support for a reigning
empress at above 80 per cent. Ms Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, the
head of the 10-member expert panel, has said that public
opinion would be the most important factor in their

A woman last sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne from 1762
to 1771, when Empress Gosakuramachi reigned until
abdicating in favour of her nephew.

Seven other women have occupied the throne throughout
its 1,500 years of documented history, but they all
served as temporary caretakers until males could take
over. None of their offspring ever succeeded them.