Swifter end to hunt for MIAs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 1995, 12:00am

A CHANGE in policy could hasten the end of Missing in Action (MIA) issue as circumstantial evidence may be used for the first time to determine the fate of 1,615 US servicemen still unaccounted for in Vietnam.

Military sources said the US Defence Department's joint MIA task force had recommended to Pentagon policy-makers that circumstantial evidence be used - a potentially complicated political decision.

So far, the 70 servicemen dropped from the list since 1992 have all been identified through actual bodily remains, despite as many as 12 investigations having been made into the fate of each missing serviceman.

'It's clear given all the files and all the documentary work built up on each case that we are never going to be able to find the remains of everybody,' one taskforce source said.

'It's up to the policy-makers, but we have told them we think it's time to use other evidence aside from remains.' Such evidence could include testimony from local villagers, or wreckage such as inactivated ejector seats.

So far the US has spent up to US$100 million (HK$773 million) a year in the hunt with US$19 million being spent in Vietnam.

Five times a year, dozens of experts including crash analysts and archaeologists are flown into jungle areas to scour wreck sites, in what US Secretary of State Warren Christopher described as dangerous and meticulous work. Any remains are then flown to laboratories in Hawaii for testing.

Searches have been planned as far ahead as 1998, but any decision to use other evidence aside from bones and tissue could vastly quicken the operation, the sources said.