U.S. to Spend $90 Million to Clear Bombs in Laos
Posted: Sep 12, 2016
By Thomas Maresca
Sep 6, 2016 – 12:29pm EDT
VIENTIANE, Laos — President Obama said Tuesday the United States will double current funding and spend $90 million over the next three years to clear unexploded bombs dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.
“The spirit of reconciliation is what brings me here today,” said Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos. “Given our history here, the U.S. has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.” Obama said he wants to make the two nations “whole again.”
He offered no apologies, calling the covert bombing campaign and its aftermath reminders that “whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll.”
Obama made the announcement during a speech in the capital Vientiane, where he’s attending a series of Asian summit meetings this week on security, terrorism, natural disasters and other regional issues.
“It’s more than we were expecting,” said Simon Rea, the Laos country director for the Mines Advisory Group, which helps people wounded by landmines and receives U.S. funding. “I think that it is a very significant move, and it will move us forward very quickly.”
Obama also met Tuesday with South Korean President Park Geun Hye and said the U.S. will work to toughen sanctions on North Korea after the reclusive country fired three ballistic missiles Monday, as the Group of 20 leaders held a summit in Hangzhou, China. Obama said there was room for dialogue, if North Korea changes direction.
He met with Park after canceling a face-to-face meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had referred to Obama as a “son of a bitch” while warning him not to question extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs. Duterte, who became president in June, later expressed regret over his comments.
To help Laos, the United States has steadily increased its funding for removing unexploded bombs — from $2.5 million a decade ago to $15 million this year. A secret, nine-year U.S. bombing campaign aimed at blocking supplies to Vietnam and fighting communist forces in northern Laos left tens of millions of unexploded bombs in the countryside.
Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. conducted 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, dropping 270 million cluster bombs on the officially neutral country.
Obama said the bombardment on the small, landlocked nation was more than “we dropped on Germany and Japan, combined, in all of World War II.”
An estimated 80 million of the baseball-sized cluster bombs — nearly a third of those dropped — failed to detonate. Less than 1% have been cleared, and more than 20,000 people have been killed or injured since the bombing ceased.
Kim Warren, head of mission at Handicap International Laos, praised the U.S. pledge of increased funding.
“It’s great news for the sector and great news for Laos,” said Warren, whose group clears unexploded ordnance and helps those injured by bombs and mines. “It all comes down to securing funding for what we do.”
The Lao government said Tuesday it would increase efforts to recover remains and account for Americans missing since the Vietnam War.