Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK
First Agent Orange tests for Vietnam
Rehabilition centres have been set up across Vietnam
An American scientist has left Vietnam with blood samples for use in the first independent analysis of the effects of Agent Orange on the population.
Arnold Schecter, a world authority on the toxic defoliant at the head of a joint US-Vietnamese research team, left Hanoi late on Monday carrying14 blood samples on his way to Germany.
US forces sprayed about 44 million gallons of Agent Orange over Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.
Rehabilitation centres have been set up across Vietnam for deformed and retarded children of people who are alleged to have been exposed to the deadly dioxin contained in Agent Orange.
US Congress has demanded independent analysis before releasing money for research and eventual compensation.
Mr Schecter was a member of a 1995 US delegation whose blood samples and documents were confiscated by Vietnamese officials just before leaving the country.
Washington and Hanoi normalised relations in 1995, two decades years after the end of the war, but the issue of American use of Agent Orange remains a sore point.
Mr Schecter believes between 700,000 and several million people were exposed to the causing cancer, miscarriage and birth defects.
"It appears most of the malformations seen in Vietnamese children are almost certainly not from dioxin or Agent Orange", Mr Schecter said on Monday.
But he described the current programme as a "major milestone" which could open the way for US government funding to help research in Vietnam.
Extensive research on Vietnam veterans exposed to the chemical has taken place in the US, leading to some compensation awards.
But correspondents say the US fears Vietnam is trying to blame the US defoliant programme for problems with other causes, such as polio, encephalitis and cerebral palsy.