Obama, In Laos, Pledges Boost In Ongoing Leahy-Led Effort To Remove Unexploded Ordnance From The Vietnam War

. . . Leahy’s Work To Remedy Landmines And Other UXO War Legacies Has Long Been A Hallmark Of His Work On Key Senate Appropriations Panel; Leahy Also Hails Laos’ Pledge Of Cooperation In Searches For Missing U.S. Service Personnel

President Obama, visiting Laos on Tuesday, announced a significant increase in funding for clearing unexploded U.S. ordnance (UXO) from the Vietnam War, which continues to kill and maim civilians in Laos, many of them children.  The action builds upon several years of efforts led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to help remedy these legacy threats in Laos, Vietnam and other earlier conflict zones.

Leahy spoke Tuesday of the significance of the President’s commitment:  “During more than four decades since the end of the Vietnam War, thousands of innocent Laotians have been maimed and killed by millions of U.S. cluster munitions and other unexploded bombs.  Over many years I included funds to help remove them, but President Obama’s announcement today is historic.  For the first time, an American president has publicly recognized that we have a responsibility to do more to end this tragic legacy, by increasing funding to support a national survey and clearance programs, assistance for victims, and risk education.  I will do everything I can to ensure that the Congress does its part.”

He also welcomed Laos’ pledge to cooperate in efforts to locate missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War era.

For more than two decades Leahy has either chaired or been the leading Democratic member of the Appropriations Committee panel that handles the Senate’s work in writing the annual budget bill for U.S. foreign operations (in more recent years, also, the State Department’s annual budget).  The State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee is where Leahy has long done the bulk of his ongoing human rights work, including his crusade against anti-personnel landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), creation of the Leahy War Victims Fund, and other Leahy initiatives.

BELOW:         Summary Of Leahy’s Work On UXO Remediation In Laos

                        Advance Text Of Leahy’s Senate Floor Address, Scheduled For This Afternoon

Summary Of Leahy’s Work On UXO Remediation In Laos

  • Beginning in 1990, the Leahy War Victims Fund has been used to provide millions of dollars in medical and related assistance for victims of UXO in Laos. 
  • Since the 1990s, Leahy has included funding in the annual appropriations bills for the Department of State and Foreign Operations to support UXO clearance programs in Laos.  The annual amount has steadily increased, far exceeding the amount in the Administration’s budget request to Congress.  In FY15, the amount was $17 million; in FY16 $19.5 million; and in the FY17 the amount in the Senate appropriations bill is $25 million. 
  • These amounts would not have been provided if Leahy had not insisted that the U.S. government, which was responsible for the problem, do more to address it. 
  • Earlier this year, in anticipation of the President’s trip to Laos, Leahy has consulted twice with White House officials to discuss ways to increase U.S. support for UXO programs in Laos. 

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[Following are remarks that Leahy has prepared for delivery on the Senate Floor:]

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
Ending the Threat of Unexploded Ordnance in Laos
(Prepared For Delivery On The Senate Floor)
Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I suspect that not many Americans have visited or know much about Laos, a poor country the size of Utah with fewer than 7 million people, wedged between Vietnam and Cambodia. 

And I am sure that back in the 1960s and 70s, few Americans had even heard of Laos and virtually no one was aware that the United States was involved in a war there. 

For nearly a decade, from 1964 to 1973, the United States military unleashed more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during some 580,000 bombing missions.  That amounts to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years.  Laos became, and still is, the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. 

The bombing was part of the a U.S. war in Laos, never declared or publicized, to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombs destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians.

But although the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the casualties continued.  Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with huge numbers of unexploded ordnance, or UXO. 

Of the 270 million U.S. cluster bombs that were dropped on Laos during that period, it is estimated that as many as 80 million did not detonate.  But they remained on or slightly below the surface of the ground, ready to explode if disturbed by an unsuspecting farmer or child.

Nearly 40 years later, only a small fraction of those munitions have been destroyed.  But progress has been made, and today there are just under 50 new UXO casualties in Laos each year, down from more than 300 a decade ago.  The majority of the accidents result in death, and nearly half of the casualties are children. 

I became interested in this problem back in the late 1980s, and in 1990 the first assistance from the Leahy War Victims Fund was provided to help victims of U.S. cluster bombs in Laos.  Since then, the Leahy Fund, administered by USAID, has been used to provide medical and related assistance for thousands of Laotians. 

Also, as either chairman or ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, I have included funding each year, above the amounts requested by successive administrations, to support programs to locate and destroy UXO in Laos.  Since fiscal year 1995 the U.S. has contributed over $100 million for UXO programs in Laos. 

Those funds, including $19.5 million for UXO clearance programs in fiscal year 2016, have been supported by Republicans and Democrats, including the current chair of our subcommittee Senator Graham, and of the House subcommittee Representative Granger, and the House ranking member Representative Lowey.  I appreciate their support for this. 

But I have long felt that the Unites States should do more, and so I am very pleased that President Obama, the first American president to visit Laos, announced earlier today that the U.S. will increase its support for UXO programs in Laos. 

The President pledged $90 million over the next three years to continue clearance, victims’ assistance, and risk education programs at the fiscal 2015 level of $15 million annually.  The balance of $45 million will be used to support a national UXO survey.  The survey is extremely important, as it will establish a baseline for contaminated land that remains to be cleared so the Lao Government and international donors can plan future clearance activities and accurately forecast how much time and money it will take to make Laos UXO impact-free. 

Earlier this year, in anticipation of President Obama’s trip to Laos, my staff met twice with White House staff to discuss ways to increase U.S. funding for UXO programs in Laos.  I applaud President Obama for publicly recognizing that we have a responsibility to do more to end this tragic legacy by accelerating our efforts. 

I will do everything I can to ensure that the Congress does its part to appropriate the funds, so that in the not too distant future all Laotians can walk the Earth in safety.

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