Laos: Hillary Clinton says US must do more to clean up unexploded bombs


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours the Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise Center (COPE), a group that provides free prosthetics to those who need them including the victims of unexploded Vietnam War era ordnance in Vientiane on July 11, 2012.



Hillary Rodham Clinton has pledged US help in ridding Laos of millions of unexploded bombs that continue to maim and kill four decades after the Vietnam War.

The small Southeast Asian nation was known as the world's most heavily bombed nation per person during the war, with the US dropping more than 2 million tons of ordnance there between 1964 and 1973, the Associated Press wrote.

That's more than amount was dropped on Germany and Japan together in World War II, it added.

Laos was a North Vietnamese ally during the long Indochina conflict, however the US bombing there went largely unreported in the US, Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of the Washington-based activist group Legacies of War told the LA Times.

"Laos has always been the sideshow to the conflict in Vietnam," Khamvongsa said.

"It wasn’t in our history books. When people hear about the enormity of what happened, they are shocked."

Clinton's visit, of a weeklong diplomatic tour of Southeast Asia, is the first to Laos by a US Secretary of State in nearly six decades, the LA Times wrote.

It comes as the Obama administration looks to to "pivot" US foreign policy away from the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to NBC News.

America is also looking to counterbalance China's expanding economic, diplomatic and military dominance of the region by improving its standing in some of the world's fastest growing markets, NBC wrote.

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Clinton met with the communist government's prime minister and foreign minister in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, on Wednesday.

According to the Associated Press, the leaders discussed investment opportunities as well as environmental concerns over a proposed Mekong River dam.  

Clinton also asked the country's leaders for help in finding the remains of 575 Americans still officially listed as Missing in Action from the Vietnam War era, CBS reported.

And toured a clinic run by the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), an organization that helps provide victims with prosthetic limbs.

"We have to do more," CBS quoted her as telling Phongsavath Souliyalat, who was 16 when he lost both arms and his eyesight after picking up an unexploded US cluster bomblet.

"That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together."

The State Department estimates that about 80 million unexploded American bombs are littered across Laos.

Washington has pledged $9.2 million dollars in financial assistance in 2012 to disarm unexploded ordnance, adding to the more than $59 million that the State Department says it has provided since 1995 to remove the explosives.

According to CBS, Vientiane has also started to reach out after decades of isolation, working with Washington on issues such as human trafficking and education. 

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