Pentagon Affirms Agent Orange Use
Nov. 17, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Use of Agent Orange to clear the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas was never a secret, the Pentagon says in responding to a furor in South Korea over spraying of cancer-causing defoliant with U.S. approval in the late 1960s.
Authorities in South Korea acknowledged as much today, but there are differences over which country came up with the idea.
South Korean soldiers used hand sprayers to spread Agent Orange and other chemicals over the border to kill foliage that was providing cover for North Korean infiltrators, said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley at the Pentagon.
South Korea's defense minister ordered an inquiry into the matter after South Korean media reported use of the herbicide that has been blamed for cancer and other medical problems among Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese civilians.
``The records are clear that that was a decision made by the South Korean government and military at that time,'' Quigley said at a briefing Tuesday. But he said research into the records has been ``spotty.''
Quigley said U.S. military authorities researched use of Agent Orange on the Korean Peninsula as a result of the media reports. He said there is no evidence of an effort to cover up the spraying, although the defoliants' use ``had fallen off people's scopes for a long period of time.''
There was ``widespread knowledge'' of the use of herbicides in Korea at the time, he said, with involvement of the U.S. secretary of state and comparable South Korean officials.
South Korea paid for the defoliant and no American soldiers were involved in applying it, he said, adding that the South Koreans used hand sprayers because airplanes couldn't fly over the border region.
In Seoul, Assistant Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said today the U.S. military ``first requested the use of defoliants, and it is assumed that the South Korean side accepted it, recognizing its usefulness.''
After ordering an inquiry into the case, Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae left for Washington today for a previously scheduled meeting next week with Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Aides to the defense minister said the Agent Orange issue will be among the items discussed at the Washington meeting next Tuesday.
Quigley said he was unaware of any complaints of Koreans being harmed by Agent Orange or other chemicals along the border, and there were no reports of such complaints in Seoul.
But thousands of South Koreans who fought alongside American soldiers in the Vietnam War recently began a new effort to gain compensation from the U.S. government for exposure to Agent Orange, resulting in cancer, deformities and birth defects. They are seeking $1 billion.
A consortium of Dow Chemical and other manufacturers of Agent Orange paid $184 million in 1984 in an out-of-court settlement of lawsuits by Vietnam veterans from all countries except South Korea. Lawsuits had been filed on behalf of veterans from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
South Korean Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae, in ordering the inquiry into the Vietnam-era use of Agent Orange in Korea, said, ``At this stage, factual verification is important.''
Several former South Korean army officers, appearing on Korean television Monday night, confirmed that their men were mobilized in the spray work but said they did not know they were spreading toxic chemicals that could cause health problems.
SBS-TV of Seoul reported that ``Vegetation Control Program CT1968'' documents showed that 7,000 soldiers were needed for one small area. That suggested that more than 30,000 troops could have been used in the entire area along the southern boundary of the 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel.
South Korea's Defense Ministry subsequently said 59,000 gallons of Agent Orange and two other defoliants were spread along the border in 1968-69.
The total amount, it said, included 21,000 gallons of Agent Orange.
About 27,000 South Korean soldiers were used for the first spray work in 1968, the ministry said. It had no figure for 1969 but said about the same number of troops are believed to have been used.