US President Barack Obama gestures after speaking about US-Laos relations at the Lao National Cultural Hall in Vientiane, September 6, 2016. (AFP photo)
US President Barack Obama, who has arrived in Laos to attend the ASEAN Summit, has used the occasion to talk about America’s brutal bombing campaign in the Southeast Asian country during the Vietnam War.
Obama, who became the first sitting US president to visit Laos, admitted during a speech on Tuesday that America’s secret bombing campaign against Laos obliterated the country and killed thousands of people.
"Villages and entire valleys were obliterated," during US bombardments, Obama told a group of Lao people at the capital city of Vientiane. “Ancient plains were devastated. Countless civilians were killed. That conflict was another reminder whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll, especially on innocent men, women and children.”
The US president said Washington would spend 90 million dollars to clear millions of unexploded American bombs under a joint three-year contract with the Laotian government. Washington's 'goodwill' gesture, however, could be too little too late for thousands of people who lost their lives or limbs due to the leftover ordnance.
Between 1964 and 1973, US warplanes engaged in a secret bombing campaign, dropping over two million tons of bombs on villages across Laos, in a bid to cut off the supply trail of the Vietnamese army.
Tens of millions of those bombs, mostly cluster munitions, did not explode immediately and continue to harm unsuspecting civilians.
US-based organization Legacies of War has reported that so far, only about 1 percent of the bombs have been cleared. It says 25 million dollars a year will be needed for cleanup operations over the next decade.
Nearly 20,000 Laotians have been killed or maimed by the leftover ordnance. A staggering 40 percent of them have been children.
“The remnants of war continue to shatter lives here in Laos,” Obama said. “Many of the bombs dropped never exploded. Over the years thousands of Laotians have been killed or injured, farmers tending fields, children playing. The wounds, a missing leg or arm, last a lifetime. That's why I've dramatically increased or funding to remove these unexploded bombs.”
The Pentagon will help efforts to locate the bombs by providing records of the places that they were dropped.
Laos President Bounnhang Vorachit said, his country, in return, would help America locate and return its military personnel who went missing during the war.