Washington, D.C. (Jan. 24, 2016) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Laos this week. He is the third Secretary of State in history to visit Laos, following John Foster Dulles in 1955, and Hillary Clinton in 2012.
While Secretary Kerry’s agenda will focus on Laos’ chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) this year, Legacies of War is asking the Secretary to use this opportunity to commit the U.S. to finally addressing the legacy of unexploded bombs in Laos.
A senior State Department official, responding to the unexploded ordnance (UXO) issue on Sunday, said, “I think that there will be announcements and sort of upgrades or expansions of U.S. support for programs in Laos, including the UXO, the unexploded ordnance, and help, but I suspect that most of those will come when President Obama is here later in the year…This visit will certainly put a lot of focus on the work that we’re doing in Laos, but we’re not going to preview any possible announcements.”
Legacies of War is calling the unexploded ordnance (UXO) issue a key step forward would be to at least double its current funding over the next decade. As a new partnership between the U.S. and Laos begins, Legacies of Wars said this is a time to solve a lingering Vietnam War-era problem.
“The visit to Laos by Secretary Kerry, himself a veteran of the war in Vietnam, provides a unique opportunity to address the long-term impact of war in Southeast Asia,” said Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of Legacies of War. “As Secretary Kerry meets with Lao officials in the capital city of Vientiane, I hope he keeps in mind that out in the surrounding rural areas, a child is walking to school, a mother is clearing the farmland, a father is lighting a cooking stove – all while risking life and limb due to the unexploded bombs still buried around them. Secretary Kerry can help create a new, lasting legacy of peace out of the wreckage of war, which has been left unresolved for far too long.”
Kerry was a U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant serving in Vietnam, a secret U.S. bombing campaign was taking place next door in Laos. The U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes, around the clock, for nine years. The U.S. dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions, many the size of a tennis ball. With a failure rate of 25-30 percent, tens of millions of these bombs failed to explode. They still litter the fields, gardens and village paths of Laos today. Since the bombing ended, there have been more than 20,000 casualties due to unexploded bombs in Laos.
Thanks to the sustained efforts of concerned Lao and broader American communities, and strong support from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and other members of congress, U.S. support for bomb removal and victim assistance in Laos has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2017, that amount will reach an unprecedented $19.5 million.
However, less than one percent of the estimated 80 million leftover bombs in Laos have been cleared. And more than 12,000 survivors in Laos will be in need of medical and rehabilitation services for the rest of their lives.
Legacies of War was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing of Laos and advocate for greater U.S. funding to address its legacy.