Defoliants in DMZ

      November 17, 1999 18:58

      In addition to the side effects from the use of toxic defoliants suffered by Korean troops in the Vietnam War, the government has now confirmed the use of the same chemicals in 1968 and 1969 along the DMZ. In some respects it was inevitable that these had to be used to clear fire zones after repeated infiltration and an attack on Cheong Wa dae by North Korean commandos, but warnings of the nature of the defoliants should have been given to troops and precautions should have been taken to limit their exposure.

      According to the Ministry of National Defence (MoND) a total of 59,000 gallons of Agent Orange, Agent Blue and Nuruon were sprayed over approximately 80 million square meters, and in 1968, 26,639 soldiers were exposed to them, with no records available for 1969. One gram of dioxin contained in the defoliant is sufficient to kill 20,000 people, and so it is highly likely that some of the soldiers suffered from side effects.

      Ministry officials say that at the time nobody was aware of how toxic the defoliants were, but even so it is irresponsible to keep silent about this earlier use of an agent that provoked serious discussion when it was used in Vietnam. In addition the U.S. authorities silence on the issue is also lacking in candor as it is their declassified documents that provide irreversible proof that the defoliants were used.

      Washington admitted the use of the defoliants in a legal case filed by a veteran who served in Korea and was exposed to them, and so it should take some responsibility and not simply claim that their use was solely on the initiative of the South Korean government.

      This is not a matter for the two governments to pass the buck to each other, they must thoroughly investigate the issue and look at the matter of compensation if appropriate.

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