Big US hunt for troops

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HANOI (AP) - The United States will tomorrow launch its largest search mission for Americans missing in action (MIAs) since the end of the war, as Washington and Hanoi continue to edge toward better relations.

The operation comes at a time when the US is reassessing the MIAs issue and when and how to move ahead in lifting its 19-year trade embargo against its former enemy.

Some Western diplomats and businessmen anticipate such a move will be made this year. A dozen US companies already have registered to bid for about dollars 300m ( pounds 200m) in internationally financed road projects following an easing of the embargo last September by President Bill Clinton.

The President has made further steps toward renewing trade and diplomatic relations with Vietnam contingent on Hanoi's progress in the fullest possible accounting of the 2,239 Americans still unaccounted for.

Some veterans' groups and MIA family members oppose renewed ties with Vietnam, claiming Hanoi continues to withhold information and remains. Since the war, Vietnam has handed over 280 sets of remains that have been positively identified as Americans.