THE United States Government has pledged an additional US$90 million over the next three years to clear the tens of millions of unexploded bombs the U.S. dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.
The announcement came Tuesday during President Barack Obama’s visit to Laos. He is the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the impoverished, landlocked country.
Millions of unexploded cluster bombs remain in the Laotian countryside from a nine-year U.S. covert bombing campaign that was aimed at cutting off communist forces in neighboring Vietnam.
The White House says the U.S. has over the last two decades contributed some US$100 million to help Laos recover from the secret bombing campaign. Annual deaths fell from more than 300 to fewer than 50 in that period.
Obama is on a historic visit Laos to heal war wounds and reinvigorate relations with a country with rising strategic importance to the U.S.
Sabaidii, Laos! Honored to be the first U.S. president to visit Laos and to begin a new partnership between our countries.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 6, 2016
The president said the U.S. has a moral obligation to help Laos heal, and that the the U.S. wants to help the the government invest in its people.
Obama is recounting the nine-year “secret war” that the U.S. conducted in Laos during the Vietnam War. He says American warplanes dropped more bombs on Laos than on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.
He also says it’s important to recognize the suffering by all sides in that conflict and that war inflicts a terrible toll whatever the cause.
Obama spoke to about 1,100 people at the Lao National Cultural Hall.
According to the Associated Press, in the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. rained bombs on Laotian villages and the countryside as America’s war with Vietnam spilled across the border.
The Laotian government estimates that more than 2 million tons of ordnance were released during more than 500,000 missions – one bomb every eight minutes for nine years.
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) September 6, 2016
An estimated 80 million cluster bombs did not explode, leaving tennis ball-sized “bombies” littering the impoverished countryside to wound and kill unsuspecting people.
The victims of the bombs were mainly children and farmers forced to work on their contaminated fields to sustain their families.
However, as of 2015, only 1 percent of Laos’ territory had been cleared despite tens of millions spent.
Obama says he wants to forge a partnership with Laos to make the two countries “whole again” after troubled relations dating to the Vietnam War.
At a luncheon on Tuesday, President Barack Obama offered a toast to “the dignity and the future” of the people of Laos.
“As the first U.S. president to visit this nation I know my visit comes at a very important time,” Obama was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.
Obama and the Lao president reportedly clinked glasses of red wine during their lunch at the presidential palace in Vientiane.
Obama arrives in Laos; expected to announce aid to clean up millions of unexploded bombs dropped during Vietnam. https://t.co/Rij5sMpUaw
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 5, 2016
The menu included deep-fried bacon roll stuffed with minced prawn, braised duck breast and deep-fried Mekong fish.
Obama and the other guests watched a dance performance by 10 women in traditional red and pearl skirts, draped shirts and gold headbands. The dancers twirled their hands in the air in a slow, rhythmic dance.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press