Clinging to a rope as he backed down a 70-degree incline in the rugged mountains of Laos, Sanford Bishop says an eerie feeling came over him as he reached the spot where North Vietnamese soldiers ambushed an Army Special Forces team 28 years ago.

Staff Sgt. Robert Preiss of New York perished in that ambush, and his comrades were never able to recover the body from the remote site.Bishop, a three-term Democratic congressman from Georgia who has taken a special interest in MIA issues, accompanied a military excavation team to the site in January.

"It was . . . scary," the 51-year-old lawmaker recalled in an interview last week. "It was just a very, very unusual feeling, like being in a cemetery, at the place where you know Sgt. Preiss died."

He said it was "awesome to see the conditions under which the American soldier had to operate during the war, with this kind of terrain, exposed to poisonous snakes, to the disease from malaria and mosquitoes, as well as hostile fire, all at the same time."

Bishop, accompanied by an aide, traveled to Laos, Vietnam and Thailand as part of a House Intelligence Committee review of the Pentagon's efforts to account for the 2,099 Americans still listed as missing in Southeast Asia from the Vietnam War.

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Since the United States re-established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, the government has spent millions of dollars scouring Vietnamese archives and South-east Asian battlefields in an effort to account for the missing and return what can be found of their remains.

The mountainous site in Laos' Xekong Province where Bishop visited the team searching for Preiss' remains is one 83 locations in Southeast Asia that U.S. officials believe may hold clues to the missing Americans.

After meeting with Vietnamese and Laotian officials, as well as the Pentagon leaders of Joint Task Force - Full Accounting, Bishop said he is convinced the Southeast Asian governments are cooperating completely with U.S. efforts to account for the missing.

In Laos, Bishop said he got commitments from top government and military officials that U.S.-Laotian MIA efforts this year will focus exclusively on excavating for remains at locations already identified, rather than spending more time searching for new sites.

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