Vietnam seeks funds for Agent Orange victims

HANOI, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Vietnam launched an “Orange Day” campaign on Monday to raise funds for people it says suffered through the spraying of Agent Orange herbicide by American forces during the war, for long an irritant in relations.

Vietnam and the United States disagree over the impact of the dioxin-laced herbicides, millions of gallons of which was sprayed on Vietnamese jungles by U.S. forces from the early 1960s until the early 1970s in an attempt to deny Communist troops cover.

On Sunday, more than 10,000 people, some in wheelchairs, paraded through downtown Ho Chi Minh City in support of Agent Orange victims and “poor people with disabilities”, newspaper Saigon Giai Phong reported.

Vietnam’s English state-TV channel VTV4 planned to broadcast Agent Orange-related programmes all day, and the campaign’s organisers hoped to raise $3.4 million for shelters, scholarships and vocational training through a range of activities.

The launch date, Aug. 10, marked the day Agent Orange was first used 48 years ago, state media reported.

Hanoi says the defoliants, nicknamed “Agent Orange” from the orange stripe on the barrels in which they were stored, have caused 400,000 deaths and millions of cases of cancer and other ailments. It says 4.8 million people were exposed.

The United States is involved in a project to assess and help clean up dioxin “hot spots” in the central city of Danang and is helping fund services to the disabled community in that area.

Many U.S. veterans exposed to the defoliant have complained for years about a variety of health problems.

Last month, a U.S. Institute of Medicine panel said a study had found that Agent Orange may raise the risk of heart disease and Parkinson’s disease, but it said the evidence was far from definitive.[ID:nN24481722]

The findings added to the list of conditions that could be linked to the defoliants, including leukaemia, prostate cancer, type II diabetes and birth defects in the children of veterans.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the dismissal of lawsuits by Vietnamese nationals and U.S. veterans against Dow Chemical Co DOW.N, Monsanto Co MON.N and other chemical makers over the use of Agent Orange.

In 1984, seven chemical companies, including Dow and Monsanto, agreed to a $180 million settlement with veterans.

Reporting by John Ruwitchl Editing by Sanjeev Miglani