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February 17, 2003

Va. Bill Promoting S. Vietnam Flag Dies

By Justin Bergman

(Associated Press) - A bill in the Virginia legislature that promotes the flag of the former South Vietnam died in a subcommittee after federal officials warned lawmakers it could damage relations between the United States and Vietnam.

Sen. Malfourd Trumbo said Monday that the bill will not face a vote before Monday's midnight deadline for action.

The measure sparked concern among officials in Vietnam and the State Department after it passed the House of Delegates last month. State Department officials urged several legislators to kill the bill.

In a Feb. 5 letter addressed to bill sponsor Del. Robert Hull, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the legislation could have "potentially serious adverse consequences" on the way the United States conducts foreign policy, and could encourage similar action by other aggrieved ethnic groups living in the United States.

"The United States has made great strides in overcoming the aftermath of war with Vietnam," Armitage wrote. "Passage of this legislation would set back the progress we have made over the past decade."

On Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to Vietnamese officials assuring them the State Department had expressed its concerns to the Virginia Legislature.

Hull criticized the federal intervention.

"If the State Department had not contacted the members of the Senate, it wouldn't have reinforced the international implications, and they wouldn't want to shy away from it," Hull said.

The Democrat said the bill was requested by his Vietnamese-American constituents, who find the current Vietnamese flag - a yellow star on a crimson background - an insult.


Russian-U.S. Panel Identifies U.S. POWs

(Associated Press) - A U.S.-Russian panel on prisoners of war has found information in Russia's military archives that could help account for 51 American pilots missing from Vietnam, a lawmaker said Monday.

The information has already helped identify seven of the pilots, said lawmaker Nikolai Bezborodov, deputy chief of the parliamentary defense affairs committee and co-chair of the POW panel.

"The fate of 19 more servicemen can be determined by the Americans on the basis of the lists presented to them," Bezborodov was quoted as telling the Interfax-Military News Agency.

The information documents 38 incidents involving the capture of 51 Americans. In all, 1,889 Americans are still missing in Vietnam and nearby countries, 30 years after the war ended.

Last week, Bezborodov complained about Russian military archives remaining largely classified. He voiced hope that the POW search would become easier, because the archives from the Vietnam era are to be declassified this year.

The commission also studied reports and notes on Soviet military aid to Vietnam and combat reports about Vietnamese air defense and air force operations, Bezborodov said.

The panel has found information about five cases of Soviet intelligence offices questioning American POWs in Vietnam, but no evidence has been found that any Americans were transferred to the Soviet Union.

The U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on POWs and soldiers missing in action was set up in 1992. The main focus has been on the Korean War, but the commission also is looking at the Vietnam War and investigating the fate of Soviet troops missing in Afghanistan.

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