US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One as he arrives at Wattay international airport for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits in Vientiane, Laos, 05 September 2016.
Photograph: EPA/MAST IRHAM

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged 90 million dollars to help clear millions of unexploded bombs in Laos that date back to the Vietnam War.

Unexploded bombs have killed more than 20,000 people in Laos since the 1970s.

The assistance, which would be used to fund a national survey and clearance project with the Laos government over the next three years, was announced by Obama during a meeting with Laos' President Bounnhang Vorachit.

“I believe the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal,” he later said in a speech before 1,100 people at the National Cultural Hall in Vientiane.

“I also know that the remnants of war continue to shatter lives here in Laos,” he said, noting that many of the clusters bombs dropped by US warplanes during the Vietnam War remained unexploded.

“The wounds, a missing leg or arm, last a lifetime and that’s why as president I dramatically increased our funding to help remove these unexploded bombs,” he added.

Vorachit “welcomed the US government’s continued commitment to clear unexploded ordnance, assist victims, prevent future casualties and develop local capacity to ensure sustainability of this work,” a joint statement said.

In the statement the two leaders also said the “comprehensive cooperation in addressing war legacy issues ... has allowed both countries to develop a relationship that looks to the future.”

Over the last 20 years, the United States has contributed over 100 million dollars to support unexploded ordnance clearance programmes, which have helped reduce casualties from over 300 per year to fewer than 50. 

During the Vietnam War, US warplanes dropped at least 270 million cluster bombs on Loatian villages and the countryside to try and cut off the North Vietnamese army's supply trails.

The "secret war" made Laos the most heavily bombed country in history per person, Obama noted.

"As one Laotian person said the bombs came down like rain," he said. 

Approximately 80 million of the bombs failed to detonate and less than 1 per cent have been cleared, according to US-based NGO Legacies of War.

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