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Kin of Missing Vietnamese in Bid to Learn Their Fate

May 03, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Twelve years after Saigon fell to Communist troops, the families of Vietnamese political prisoners have begun a campaign to convince Americans that the fate of their fathers, husbands and brothers must be resolved before the United States can close the book on a war most Americans want to forget.

"We do not entertain many hopes but, even if we finish our lives without seeing our husbands again, we shall die in peace knowing that we have tried," Khuc Minh Tho, president of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Assn., said in launching the campaign last week.

Using techniques familiar to the supporters of Soviet Jews, American MIAs (missing in action) and others, the association is basing its campaign on pathos, family solidarity and the support of U.S. political leaders ranging across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). An underlying theme is the guilt they believe Americans should feel over the fate of soldiers who fought on the same side as the U.S. troops.

Although the association has been active for years, its American supporters say it has not previously sought public attention. Now the organization has decided that it is time to dramatize the issue.

A handful of senators, House members and Administration officials offered their support to the campaign at a Capitol Hill ceremony Thursday, marking the 12th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Other efforts, as yet unannounced, are planned to increase public awareness to try to help the prisoners, organizers said.

Dole, the Senate minority leader, and Kennedy, a stalwart of congressional liberals, noted that there are few issues that bring them so close together.

"This is a nonpartisan, bipartisan concern we all have," Dole said. He called the prisoners "a very important U.S. responsibility."

Vietnam offered in 1984 to release the prisoners if the United States would take them. The Reagan Administration offered later that year to resettle 10,000 prisoners if Hanoi would let them go. But no prisoners have been released.

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