The Hanoi Government estimates that more than 1.1 million North Vietnamese Army personnel and Viet Cong (pro-communist South Vietnamese irregulars) were killed or went missing in the 30 years of fighting before 1975. Around 300,000 are still missing. In addition, between 50,000 and 65,000 North Vietnamese civilians and between 195,000 and 430,000 South Vietnamese civilians died as a result of the conflict.
Following the end of hostilities, people continued to go missing. The North Vietnamese occupation of the South led to the relocation of between one and 2.5 million citizens, with tens of thousands perishing in re-education camps. Between two and three million Vietnamese fled the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The war was characterized by systematic brutality on all sides, with deaths as a result of unlawful killings and the mistreatment of prisoners running into the tens of thousands.
In 2014 Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a plan to locate and identify the missing, including a DNA-led identification process. The DNA facilities are to be operated by the Ministry of Public Security and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. The effort is reported to include a budget of over US$24 million.
Through three existing facilities, operated by the Military Institute of Forensic Medicine, the Institute of Biological Technology and the Institute of Biochemical and Professional Documents, it is planned that 20,000 DNA-based identifications will be made annually.
According to the same report, the three existing laboratories tested just 285 sets of remains in 2013. Between 2011 and 2013 more than 8,000 samples were collected, leading to 2,331 identifications.
From 2011 to 2014 Vietnamese search teams recovered and repatriated the remains of 2,980 Vietnamese soldiers who fought against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
While the number of US missing in action as a result of the conflict in Southeast Asia is, in comparative terms, small, this has been a key issue in mainstream politics since the end of the war, and the US authorities have devoted significant financial and administrative resources to locating and identifying the missing.
By the middle of 2014, 1,641 Americans were still unaccounted for from the conflict. This figure included servicemen who went missing in Laos and Cambodia as well as Vietnam.
In 1973 the U.S. Department of Defense established a Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in Thailand to coordinate POW/MIA recovery efforts in the region. In 1976 the facility was moved to Hawaii. In 1992 the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was established to coordinate all efforts to identify the missing from Vietnam and in 2003 this operation was merged with the CIL to form the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. JPAC partners include the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, which specializes in DNA profiling.
The 1973 Paris Peace Accords provided for coordinated efforts to locate and identify the remains of servicemen missing in action, but the collapse of the agreement in 1975 brought this process to a halt for more than a decade.
From the mid-1980s the Vietnamese slowly began to return US remains which had been collected and stored.
From 1992 onward, US military forensic experts from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and its predecessors conducted investigations in Vietnam together with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons and were able to identify and repatriate well over a hundred sets of remains.