Obama meets vic­tims of left­over bombs in Laos

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has paid trib­ute to sur­vivors maimed by some of the 80 mil­lion un­ex­ploded bombs Amer­ica dropped on Laos decades ago dur­ing the Viet­nam War. He also pledged US help to fi­nally clean them up.

Tour­ing a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre in Vientiane yes­ter­day, Obama said the US had a “pro­found moral and hu­man­i­tar­ian obli­ga­tion” to work to pre­vent more blood­shed from the rem­nants of the US bom­bard­ment. He touted his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move to dou­ble spend­ing on or­di­nance clean-up to roughly $90 mil­lion over three years.

“For the last four decades, Lao­tians have con­tin­ued to live un­der the shadow of war,” Obama said. “The war did not end when the bombs stopped fall­ing.”

About 20,000 peo­ple have been killed or wounded since the war ended, Obama said after view­ing dis­plays of small rusted grenades and pho­tos of a child miss­ing his foot. He in­sisted those were “not just sta­tis­tics”, but re­minders of the heavy toll in­flicted by war – “some of them un­in­tended”.

“I’m in­spired by you,” he told one sur­vivor, Thoummy Sil­am­phan, who uses a pros­thetic after los­ing a hand to one of the bombs.

Half a cen­tury ago, the United States turned Laos into his­tory’s most heav­ily bombed coun­try, drop­ping some 2 mil­lion tonnes of ord­nance in a covert, nineyear chap­ter of the Viet­nam War. The first US pres­i­dent to set foot in Laos while in of­fice, Obama lamented that many Amer­i­cans re­main un­aware of the “painful legacy” left be­hind.

The $90 mil­lion is a rel­a­tively small sum for the US but a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment for a small coun­try in one of the poorer corners of the world. Obama sought to put a hu­man face on the is­sue by meet­ing with sur­vivors of bombs that Amer­ica dropped.

The pres­i­dent did not come to apol­o­gise. In­stead, he said he hoped the strength­ened part­ner­ship on clear­ing the bombs could mark a “de­ci­sive step for­ward” between the US and this land­locked com­mu­nist na­tion.

Thanks to global clean-up ef­forts, ca­su­al­ties from ten­nis ball-sized “bombies” that still lit­ter the Lao­tian coun­try­side have plum­meted from hun­dreds to dozens per year. But aid groups say far more help is needed. Of all the prov­inces in land­locked Laos, only one has a com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem to care for bomb sur­vivors.

“We’re in­cred­i­bly proud of the progress the sec­tor has made over the last five years in terms of the de­cline in ca­su­al­ties and new vic­tims,” said Chan­napha Khamvongsa of the non­profit Le­ga­cies of War. “But we are con­cerned about the up­wards of 15,000 sur­vivors around the coun­try that are still in need of sup­port.”

The $90 mil­lion Obama an­nounced fol­lows $100 mil­lion the US has com­mit­ted in the past 20 years. The Laos gov­ern­ment, mean­while, said it will boost ef­forts to re­cover re­mains and ac­count for Amer­i­cans miss­ing since the war.

The pun­ish­ing air cam­paign on Laos was an ef­fort to cut off com­mu­nist forces in neigh­bour­ing Viet­nam. Amer­i­can war­planes dropped more ex­plo­sives on this South­east Asian na­tion than on Ger­many and Ja­pan com­bined in World War II.

Obama was one of sev­eral world lead­ers vis­it­ing Laos to at­tend a meet­ing of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions.

TOUR: Obama is shown ex­am­ples of bombs that have been re­trieved

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