09.07.16

Obama, In Laos, Visits Prosthetics Clinic Funded By The Leahy War Victims Fund

President Obama Tuesday visited a prosthetics clinic in Laos that is funded by the Leahy War Victims Fund (LWVF). Leahy created the War Victims Fund in 1989 as part of his crusade against landmines and to enable innocent war victims rebuild their lives. The Senate renamed the program for Leahy several years later. During his visit to Laos the President pledged to boost support for the efforts Leahy has led for several years to help remove cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) dropped by American planes on Laos as part of secret missions over that country during the Vietnam War. Leahy had consulted with the White House on ways to expand U.S. support for UXO programs in Laos.

      

[Photo Credit: USAID (The U.S. Agency For International Development)]
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For reference, BELOW are: Leahy’s Senate Floor speech, which he delivered on Tuesday; and the President’s remarks at the LWVF-supported prosthetics clinic in Laos.


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

09.06.16

. . . 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.

# # # # #

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

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On
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.

# # # # #

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release September 7, 2016

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA

AT THE COOPERATIVE ORTHOTIC AND PROSTHETIC ENTERPRISE (COPE) CENTRE

COPE Visitor Centre

Vientiane, Laos

10:44 A.M. ICT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning, everybody. As you saw, we just had the opportunity to learn more about the very important work that’s being done here at the COPE Center, and about the magnitude of the challenge posed by unexploded ordnance.

For many people, war is something that you read about in books -- you learn the names of battles, the dates of conflicts, and you look at maps and images that depict events from long ago. 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. But for all those years in the 1960s and ‘70s, America’s intervention here in Laos was a secret to the American people, who were separated by vast distances and a Pacific Ocean, and there was no Internet, and information didn’t flow as easily.

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 Germany and Japan during World War II. Some 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on this country. You can see some of these displays showing everything that landed on relatively simple homes like this, and farms and rural areas. By some estimates, more bombs per capita were dropped on Laos than any other country in the world.

For the people of Laos, war was also something that was not contained to a battlefield. In addition to soldiers and supply lines, bombs that fell from the sky killed and injured many civilians, leaving painful absences for so many families.

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. So for the last four decades, Laotians have continued to live under the shadow of war. Some 20,000 people have been killed or wounded by this unexploded ordnance, or UXO.

For the people of Laos, then, these are not just statistics. These bomblets have taken the lives of farmers working in the fields, traders gathering scrap metal, children playing outside who thought these small, metal balls could be turned into a toy.

And for the people of Laos, this is also about the ability to make a good living. In communities that rely so much on agriculture, you can’t reach your potential on land that is littered with UXOs. As one farmer said, “We need our land to be cleared of bombs. If it weren’t for the bombs, I would multiply my production.

We also know that the people of Laos are resilient. We see that determination in members of the clearance teams that we met, men and women who have worked for years -- this very young lady says she’s been at it for 20 years -- all across this country to find UXO and eliminate them one by one. And I’m glad that we could be joined by them today.

We see the determination in the survivors of UXOs. 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 organization, the Quality of Life Association, Thoummy has helped survivors get medical care, find work, rebuild their lives with a sense of dignity.

And we see that determination in the many organizations like this one. Here at COPE, you provide assistance to those who have suffered because of UXO while shining a spotlight on the work that still has to be done. And in that effort, I’m very glad that America is your partner.

When I took office, we were spending $3 million each year to address the enormous challenge of UXO. We have steadily increased that amount, up to $15 million last year. This funding -- together with the work of the Lao government, UXO Lao, other international donors and several non-governmental organizations -- has allowed us to fund clearance efforts while also developing plans for a nationwide survey that can help locate UXO and focus clearance efforts on areas that have the most potential for economic development.

So yesterday, I was proud to announce a significant increase in America’s commitment to this work. We will invest $90 million over the next three years to this effort. Our hope is that this funding can mark a decisive step forward in the work of rolling back the danger of UXO –- clearing bombs, supporting survivors, and advancing a better future for the people of Laos.

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. Sometimes we’ve struggled to stay true to that belief, but that is precisely why we always have to work to address those difficult moments in history and to forge friendships with people who we once called enemies.

That belief in the value of every human being is what motivates the teams of Americans who travel to remote parts of this land to find the remains of hundreds of Americans who have been missing so that their families can receive some measure of comfort. That belief has to lead us to value the life of every young Lao boy and girl, who deserve to be freed from the fear of the shadow of a war that happened long ago.

Doing this work also builds trust. History does not have to drive us apart; it can sometimes pull us together. And addressing the most painful chapters in our history honestly and openly can create openings, as it has done in Vietnam, to work together on other issues, so that violence is replaced by peaceful commerce, cooperation, and people-to-people ties.

And above all, acknowledging the history of war and how it’s experienced concretely by ordinary people is a way that we make future wars less likely. 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.

Here in Laos, here at COPE, we see the victims of bombs that were dropped because of decisions made half a century ago and we are reminded that wars always carry tremendous costs, many of them unintended. People have suffered, and we’ve also seen, though, how people can be resourceful and resilient. It helps us recognize our common humanity. And we can remember that most people want to live lives of peace and security. We embrace the hope that out of this history, we can make decisions that lead to a better future for the people of Laos, for the United States, for the world.

Thank you very much, everybody.

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