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U.S. Denies Failing to Contact Cambodia on American MIAs

September 29, 1987|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand — The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok denied Cambodia's assertion that Washington has not tried to contact Phnom Penh for help in retrieving remains of missing American servicemen.

Washington officials have sought such assistance in the past without "substantive" response, embassy spokesman Ross Petzing said Monday.

Disputing the statement of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen that "no one has gotten in touch with us," Petzing said U.S. representatives have asked "Vietnamese and Laotian senior officials to intervene" with the Phnom Penh government for help on the issue of Americans missing in action. Remains have been returned from both Vietnam and Laos.

Furthermore, he said, the leader of the private National League of Families, an MIA support group, has written to Hun Sen asking for cooperation in investigating the cases. The letters, it was learned, were written by Ann Mills Griffiths, the longtime head of the league.

"There has been no substantive response," Petzing said, without elaboration.

In an interview with The Times a week ago in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen volunteered that his government has "quite a number" of remains of U.S. servicemen killed in Cambodia during the Indochina War of the 1960s and 1970s. "But no one has gotten in touch with us, so we have kept them," he said, adding that his regime is "prepared to release them on the basis of humanitarianism."

"We welcome any information on recovery of remains which could possibly be American personnel in Cambodia," Petzing said. Such information, he added, "is a humanitarian matter of the highest national priority. . . . We hope the Phnom Penh regime will cooperate in the return to the United States of any remains."

Request Planned

Petzing said the U.S. government plans to ask "appropriate" international organizations represented in Phnom Penh to raise the issue with the Cambodians. A number of U.N., Red Cross and non-governmental agencies operate in Cambodia, but the spokesman did not specify which might be approached. The United States has no diplomatic relations with the Cambodian government.

Washington documents list 83 American servicemen as missing in action in Cambodia during the war. More than 2,400 are reported missing in the three countries of Indochina--Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. All three have been under Communist rule since 1975.

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