South Korea acknowledges use of Agent Orange in late 1960s

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Fri Nov 19 03:56:01 MST 1999

18 November 1999
South Korea acknowledges use of Agent Orange in late 1960s
SEOUL: The spraying of Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants along the
border with North Korea in the late 1960s was initiated by Washington, not
Seoul, the South Korean government said Wednesday.
The U.S. military "first requested the use of defoliants, and it is assumed
that the South Korean side accepted it, recognizing its usefulness,"
Assistant Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said.
Kim told reporters that the use of defoliants was to clear dense foliage
that communist infiltrators from North Korea were using as cover along the
248 kilometer (155-mile)-long border.
Reacting to a report by Seoul's SBS-TV, the U.S. Defense Department
acknowledged on Tuesday that Agent Orange and other defoliants were used in
South Korea - but said the work was initiated by the Seoul government.
"The records are clear that that was a decision made by the South Korean
government and military at that time," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a
spokesman for the Pentagon. Quigley said there was "widespread knowledge" of
the use of herbicides in South Korea at the time, with involvement of the
U.S. secretary of state and comparable South Korean officials.
Until the SBS-TV report, the two governments had never said they used Agent
Orange in South Korea. After ordering a prompt inquiry into the case,
Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae left for Washington on Wednesday for a
previously scheduled security consultative meeting with U.S. Defense
Secretary William Cohen.
Aides said the Agent Orange issue will be discussed at the Washington
meeting, scheduled to open on Tuesday. Other main topics will include
missile and other military threats from North Korea. South Korea's Defense
Ministry said 59,000 gallons (190,000 liters) of Agent Orange and two other
defoliants were spread along the Korean border in 1968-69.
The total amount, it said, included 21,000 gallons (79,800 liters) of Agent
Orange, which contains dioxin, a substance that scientists say causes
cancer, deformities and birth defects. The amount used in South Korea is
about 0.3 percent of the total used in the Vietnam War.
About 27,000 South Korean soldiers were used for the first spray work in
1968, the ministry said. It has no figure for 1969 but said about the same
number of troops is believed to have been used. Most of the soldiers are
believed to have been exposed to the toxic chemicals, because the spray work
was done manually. The use of airplanes was avoided because of sensitivity
of the work close to the border with North Korea.
Several retired South Korean army officers from that period, appearing on
SBS-TV, acknowledged that their men were mobilized for the spray work but
they did not know that they were handling dangerous chemicals.
No U.S. soldiers were used for the spray missions. The "vegetation control
program CT1968" was pushed after a North Korean commando team infiltrated
Seoul in January 1968 to attack the South Korean presidential Blue House.
The commandos were stopped several hundred meters (yards) from the house,
and one who was captured said his group intruded through a border guarded by
U.S. soldiers. No South Korean soldiers from that period so far have come
forward to complain about Agent Orange-related symptoms, though thousands of
South Koreans who fought alongside American soldiers in the Vietnam War are
seeking compensation from the U.S. government for exposure to the defoliant.

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