Vietnam trip aims to mend fences

 

The US Defence Secretary, Mr William Cohen, flew into the former Saigon yesterday on the final leg of a historic trip to Vietnam which marks new military relations between the two countries.

Mr Cohen landed just before dark in the southern city which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Once capital of the vanquished US-backed South Vietnam, the former Saigon is now the economic engine and largest city of communist Vietnam. However, it still displays all the hallmarks of hustle and sleaze which made it famous during the war.

Mr Cohen, the first US defence secretary to visit Vietnam since the end of the 10-year conflict, left the capital, Hanoi, after two days of talks to develop military relations, which he described as productive.

Those discussions have focused on joint efforts to account for the some 2,000 US servicemen still listed as missing in action (MIA) from the Vietnam war and in non-combat co-operation, such as de-mining and flood relief.

Speaking to reporters en route to Ho Chi Minh City, Mr Cohen said Vietnam did not want to dwell on the past.

"Not one individual that I have met with during this entire time said anything about looking back into the past. They see the trend of globalisation and they are looking at the US in a very positive way," he said.

He has said throughout the trip that MIA searches would remain the highest priority. Yesterday he offered to send a team of forensic experts to help Vietnam search for its own MIAs, which number some 300,000.

Some 58,000 US soldiers and an estimated three million Vietnamese troops and civilians died during the war.

Mr Cohen's trip coincides with two months of events across Vietnam to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the conflict on April 30th. Today he will meet Vietnamese military officers and lunch with US investors.