The 80-year-old general, who leaves home from early morning to go to work and only returns late in the evening every day, is a familiar figure to residents in Mai Dich ward, Cau Giay district, Hanoi.

But few people know that he was the co-founder of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA), which has set itself the mission to help ease the pains of AO victims which they suffer as consequences of the toxic rain of herbicide sprayed by the US army on Vietnam’s southern battlefields.

“Seeing victims convulsing in pain and desperation, there is only one thing in my mind, and that is that I have to do something to ease their suffering,” said Major General Tran Xuan Thu, VAVA Vice President and Secretary General, in an emotional voice reminiscing about innumerable difficulties during the first days of the association 10 years ago.

From the beginning of Operation Ranch Hand (or Operation Hades) on August 10, 1961 to 1971, US troops sprayed nearly 80 million litres of herbicides, including Agent Orange which had a dioxin content of up to 61 percent, on 3 million hectares of forest in southern Vietnam.

The largest chemical war in the history of humankind conducted by the US army exposed about 6.8 million Vietnamese people to Agent Orange/dioxin. Hundreds of thousands of them have died, while millions of other victims and their descendants are day and night struggling against diseases, the after-effects of the toxic chemical.

As one of the VAVA founders, together with former Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh and former Deputy Defence Minister Lieut. Gen. Dang Vu Hiep, Thu understood only too well the prolonged pains the victims suffered from Agent Orange. He confided: “As retired soldiers, we keep on working not for other reasons, but to complete our unfinished work.”

The General recalls those days when he and his comrades went everywhere to raise donations for AO victims, and the time they prepared for a lawsuit against 37 US chemical companies demanding justice for the victims. It was not an easy job, especially for a newly-established association like V AVA.

Thanks to the wholehearted assistance of ministries and agencies, particularly the Ministry of National Defence, as well as the support of international friends, including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, VAVA officially filed the lawsuit at the US District Court of the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn on January 30, 2004, just 10 days after its foundation.

VAVA President Sen. Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Rinh affirmed this is a political and humanitarian struggle for justice, and at the same time demanding the US chemical producers to compensate for what they did during the war in Vietnam .

Although the lawsuit was rejected by the US court, it is important that the association was able to make public the AO case, helping the people of the world understand more about the miserable lives of the victims, the unjustifiable crime of the US army as well as the responsibility of the companies producing the chemicals.

US craft sprays toxic chemical on southern Vietnam forest

One of the greatest friends of Vietnamese AO victims is Len Aldis, Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society. In the past, Aldis sent numerous letters to the US Embassy in London protesting at the use of AO and demanding the US withdraw from Vietnam . Therefore, he cares deeply about Vietnamese victims and their fight for justice.

“We set up an ‘online petition’ against Monsanto (one among US companies producing AO) and the US Government. We were very pleased that the petition gained one million signatures. Copies of the petition were sent to the US President and Embassies in the UK and other countries,” he said.

There are many friends from around the globe looking towards Vietnamese AO victims with sympathy. They will stand side-by-side with the victims in their fight for justice. The Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange are not alone!

After nearly 10 years of operations, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin has mobilised over 600 billion VND (roughly 29 million USD) from domestic and foreign organisations and individuals. With this sum, the association has provided assistance to nearly 500,000 people throughout the nation. As many as 35 international organisations and 25 countries have voiced their support for Vietnamese AO victims and their struggle for justice.
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