US President Barack Obama has acknowledged the ongoing struggle that everyday Lao people still face coping with unexploded ordnance (UXO) across the developing Southeast Asian nation.
The US President made the remarks while visiting the Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Centre in Vientiane yesterday and meeting people who had been injured in UXO-related accidents.
“We have to force ourselves to remember that war is not just about words written in books, or the names of famous men and battles. War is about the countless millions who suffer in the shadows of war – the innocents who die, and the bombs that remain unexploded in fields decades after,” Mr. Obama said.
“For the United States, one of the wars from our history is the conflict called the Vietnam War. It’s a long and complicated conflict that took the lives of many brave young Americans. But we also know that despite its American name, what we call it, this war was not contained to Vietnam. It included many years of fighting and bombing in Cambodia and here in Laos.”
Obama said that in the 1960s and ‘70s, America’s intervention in Laos was a secret to the American people. However for the people of Laos, obviously, this war was no secret.
Over the course of roughly a decade, the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than on Germany and Japan during World War II.
“For the people of Laos, the war did not end when the bombs stopped falling. Eighty million cluster munitions did not explode. They were spread across farmlands, jungles, villages, rivers,” he said.
“As President of the United States, I believe that we have a profound moral and humanitarian obligation to support this work. We’re a nation that was founded on the belief in the dignity of every human being.”
On Tuesday, the US President announced that America would double its assistance to Laos for UXO clearance, from US$15 million last year to US$30 million in the coming year.
The assistance, which totals US$90 million over the next three years, would support a national survey to locate UXO, clearance, risk education and assistance for victims, according to the US Embassy.
The COPE Centre is located in central Vientiane and receives US government funding to provide people with disabilities, including UXO survivors, with access to prosthetic and rehabilitation services.
At the centre, the US President met a UXO survivor, Thoummy Silamphan, who was injured as a boy when a device exploded in Xieng Khuang province.
“We see the determination in the survivors of UXO accidents. Some of you heard me talking to Thoummy Silamphan, who joins us here today. When he was just a young child, he was badly wounded by a UXO explosion and lost his left hand. But rather than losing hope, he’s dedicated his life to providing hope for others. Through his organisation, the Quality of Life Association, Thoummy has helped survivors get medical care, find work, and rebuild their lives with a sense of dignity,” Obama said.
Since 1993 the US government has provided over US$100 million for UXO- related assistance in Laos.
Source: Vientiane Times