Official Meets Cambodian Rebels in Attempt to Obtain Remains of Missing Americans
ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand (AP) _ A U.S. Embassy official tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to confirm reports by Cambodian guerrillas that they saw two Americans in Cambodia and found the remains of two others.
The guerrillas, who said they just returned from fighting Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, are demanding money for the remains and for helping rescue the Americans they claimed are living in northeastern Cambodia.
Embassy official Garnett Bell said he did not obtain the remains nor did he see purported evidence of the two living Americans.
To try to retrieve the remains, Bell met at this Thai border town with a former Thai army sergeant and a Thai black market dealer apparently acting as negotiators for the guerrillas. Bell said he also discussed the matter with a guerrilla leader at the nearby Khao-I-Dang holding center for Cambodian refugees.
The U.S. government does not purchase remains, and Bell said he failed to obtain them Tuesday. A figure of $7,692 has been mentioned, but it was not clear if that was the requested payment for the remains or for aid in rescuing the Americans allegedly still alive.
Another U.S. Embassy official in Bangkok who insisted on anonymity said the embassy is frequently offered bogus identification tags and other supposed remains by shady characters hoping to make a quick profit from a sale.
Bell, a Bangkok-based officer of the U.S. Joint Casualty Resolution Center, which investigates America’s wartime missing, said he also met Tuesday with a Cambodian merchant who claimed to have videotaped, fingerprinted and photographed the two Americans in the northeastern province of Ratanakhiri in April.
Bell said he was not shown any of the supposed evidence in his meeting Tuesday with Gong La Pock, who said he was a merchant from the northwestern province of Battambang.
Guerrillas earlier said two American men, both married to Cambodian women, were living in fear of capture by Vietnamese troops.
Guerrilla leaders of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front told reporters over the weekend they found the bones and identification tags of John Ogelsey of the U.S. Navy and ″Methodist journalist″ Bernard Hendrick. They said both were captured and executed in 1972 by communist Khmer Rouge insurgents.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said neither name appears on the official list of 2,430 Americans reported missing in action in the Vietnam war, which spilled over into Cambodia and Laos. But he said there was a slim possibility their fates had not been officially recorded.
The guerrillas who found the remains said they had just returned from fighting in Kandal province, around the capital, Phnom Penh.
The Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh in 1975 but were driven out by the Vietnamese invasion three years later. The guerrillas are based along the Thai-Cambodian border.
Since American forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of Americans in Indochina, but not one has been confirmed. The communist governments there deny any Americans from the war years are living in their territory.