PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA, JULY 24 -- A U.S. military forensic team arrived here today to examine remains said to be those of Americans killed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
The U.S. delegation, led by Army Lt. Col. Joe Harvey, 50, lifted the lids on 18 coffins containing remains and at least three sets of dog tags. Eighty-three Americans, including Air Force and Army personnel and journalists, are listed as missing in action in Cambodia. Most of the missing were airmen whose planes were shot down between 1969 and 1973 during U.S. bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a major route used by Communist North Vietnam to supply troops and guerrillas in South Vietnam.
Harvey refused to comment on whether the team identified any of the remains. He said the team will continue its work on Wednesday, and then announce whether any remains will be taken to Hawaii for further identification.
The six-member team, which includes two forensic scientists and is based in Hawaii, is the first U.S. military group to visit Cambodia since 1975. Cambodian officials say they have been trying since 1980 to get the United States to examine remains that could be American, but Washington has refused to recognize the Communist government installed by Vietnam in 1979. This week's mission was approved after an appeal by Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.).
The mission was announced in June, before Secretary of State James A. Baker III's announcment last week that the United States would no longer recognize a Cambodian guerrilla coalition dominated by the communist Khmer Rouge and indicated Washington was open to beginning a dialogue with Vietnam about ending the Cambodian civil war.
Deputy Interior Minister Khim Ponn has pledged that if his government defeats the guerrillas, it would "find every possibility in order to improve this work and seek the remains of U.S. servicemen."