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Published: 10/21/2003


Vietnam won't dwell on past, official says

HANOI, Vietnam - Responding to The Blade's investigative series that an elite unit of American soldiers slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians during the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese official said yesterday the country wants to put the conflict behind it even though it caused “much suffering.”

Soldiers in the U.S. Army's Tiger Force platoon went on a seven-month rampage in 1967 in the country's Central Highlands killing unarmed men, women, and children, according to The Blade's four-part series that began on Sunday. Some members of the 45-man platoon cut off the ears of the dead and wore them on necklaces, according to Army records.

“The U.S. war of aggression has caused much suffering and losses to the Vietnamese people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said in a statement.

But he said Vietnam doesn't want to dwell on the past.

“We advocate strengthening mutual understanding through cooperation to promote increasingly better bilateral relations,” he said.

Though no charges will be pursued against the soldiers by the Vietnamese government, officials in the Quang Ngai and Quang Nam provinces say they may begin their own investigation into The Blade's findings, said Vo Thanh Tien, a communal chairman near Quang Ngai City, where many of the war crimes occurred.

“It's important that we find out what happened and allow the people to know what happened to their families,” he told The Blade. “There was much hardship brought to the people by the soldiers, and that should never be forgotten. It will not be forgotten.”

The Blade's series revealed that the U.S. Army conducted a 41D2-year investigation after a soldier who was outraged by the killings came forward. Though investigators substantiated 20 war crimes against 18 soldiers for charges ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty, no one was ever charged.

The investigation, the longest war-crime inquiry of the Vietnam conflict, reached the Pentagon and the White House but was closed in 1975 and never made public.

The Army later said it lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute those involved but could not answer why there were flaws in the investigation. Six suspects were allowed to resign during the investigation, escaping the reach of military prosecutors. And 11 witnesses were allowed to resign without being forced to testify.

Lead investigator Gustav Apsey said he found enough evidence to support murder charges against three suspects who were still in the Army at the time, but commanders never took any action.

Relations between the United States and Vietnam have improved in recent years. The two signed a bilateral trade agreement in 2001.