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DO REMAINS BELONG TO AMERICANS?

American experts hunting for clues of missing U.S. servicemen from the Vietnam War have found remains but have not yet determined whether they are American, the head of the investigation said Monday.

Lt.-Col. Jack Donovan told Reuters that during a monthlong search some remains were found where U.S. military aircraft crashed during the war, while others were turned over by villagers.He declined to give details, saying the remains would be tested to see if they were American.

About 50 American experts, working in five teams, have been flying to mountainous areas by helicopter, trekking through deep jungle and driving to remote spots along the coast to interview villagers and dig up two old crash sites.

One of the excavations was stopped when diggers came upon an old unexploded bomb. Donovan said the U.S. teams worked with Vietnamese experts, who spent days trying to deactivate the bomb. He was unsure whether that work had been completed.

The United States is expected to send in teams for two more month-long field investigations this year. The next joint search effort is scheduled to begin in late October.

Hanoi has agreed to Washington's demand to search for proof of the fate of 135 servicemen whose remains were never returned from Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government says those men died in the war. The United States, while having classified the 135 as presumed dead, says they were known to or may have survived plane crashes or other incidents.

The 135 so-called discrepancy cases are among 1,658 U.S. servicemen whose remains were never recovered from Vietnam, out of a total of 2,266 described by the U.S. military as unaccounted for in Indochina.

Americans involved in the latest search effort told Reuters that evidence gathered indicated the missing men were dead, but that in some cases it was impossible to find the remains.

The question of missing Americans is the main issue blocking normalization of U.S.-Vietnamese relations or the lifting of Washington's long-standing trade embargo against Hanoi.

U.S. Gen. John Vessey, the special envoy for President Bush on the MIA (missing-in-action) question, said last February that all evidence found by American teams since 1988 had pointed toward the death of the servicemen involved.

He said that in some cases no evidence at all was found.

Donovan, when asked whether the latest search efforts had found evidence to contradict Vessey's statement, said, "It's too soon to say that for now."

Some Americans who have investigated the discrepancy cases say they have no doubt the missing men are dead, but that it is difficult to disprove a popular myth in the United States - fed by films and private interest groups - that Americans are still held prisoner in Indochina.