Congressional Hearing on UXO in Laos

Legacies of War: Unexploded Ordnances in Laos

April 22, 2010 ~ U.S. House of Representatives, Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses Panel I

The Honorable Scot Marciel
Deputy Assistant Secretary and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Panel II

Ms. Channapha Khamvongsa
Executive Director
Legacies of War

Robert Keeley, Ph.D.
Country Program Manager for Laos
The Humpty Dumpty Institute

Mr. Virgil Wiebe
Member of the Board
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) America

Hearing Summary

Legacies of War Testifies at First-Ever Congressional Hearing on UXO in Laos

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WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 – Legacies of War Executive Director Channapha Khamvongsa testified today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee during the first hearing ever held by Congress on the scourge of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos, a legacy of the U.S. bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War.  During her testimony, Khamvongsa presented Legacies of War’s recommendation for increased U.S. funding for UXO removal in Laos: an annual U.S. commitment of $10 million over the next 10 years—less than what the U.S. spent in one week bombing Laos.

In an extraordinary historical coincidence, the hearing was held 39 years to the day after the late Senator Edward Kennedy held a hearing in 1971 to address war-related civilian problems in Laos, first exposing the Secret War in Laos to the American public with the assistance of activist and key Legacies of War supporter Fred Branfman.

Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment Chairman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa, joined by Representative Mike Honda of California, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, opened the hearing with a strong endorsement of the goals of Legacies of War.

Noting that the U.S. State Department has proposed a decrease in funding for UXO removal in Laos for 2011, Faleomavaega said, “It is shameful that the U.S. State Department has not taken a more active role in making things right for the people of Laos but, for the first time in 39 years, I am hopeful that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be willing to champion their cause.”

First to testify before the Subcommittee was Scot Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Marciel acknowledged the horrible human toll of UXO in Laos, stating that over 2.5 million tons of U.S. munitions were dropped on Laos, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history, on a per capita basis. Marciel noted that up to 30 percent of the bombs dropped over Laos failed to detonate, and that these explosive remnants of war continue to impede development and cause hundreds of casualties a year.

Praising Laos’ UXO removal program, Marciel emphasized that the UXO problem is not insurmountable.  With increased international support, he stated, “the results will be dramatic: vastly reduced casualty levels and the clearance of virtually all of the country’s highest priority land areas.”

Marciel was followed by Legacies of War’s Channapha Khamvongsa, who noted that just this year, on February 19, five children from Champassak Province had been killed by UXO.  “The problem of UXO in Laos has been allowed to persist far too long,” Khamvongsa said.  “Too many innocent lives have been lost.  Too many farmers and children have been left disabled, their lives forever changed.  But it is not too late to stop this senseless suffering.”

Khamvongsa called on the U.S. State Department to make an annual commitment of $10 million to Laos over the next 10 years to strengthen and secure the UXO sector’s capacity and bring its already effective programs to scale.  “This ten-year $100 million commitment to UXO removal in Laos would total less than what the U.S. spent in one week bombing Laos,” she noted.

Khamvongsa was joined by representatives of the non-governmental organizations the Humpty Dumpty Institute and Mines Advisory Group America, who echoed her call for increased U.S. funding for UXO removal in Laos.

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