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Obama to be first U.S. president to visit Laos

White House adviser Ben Rhodes said a partnership is developing between the United States and Laos.

By Elizabeth Shim
Obama to be first U.S. president to visit Laos
President Barack Obama is to visit Laos in 2016, making him the first U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian nation since the establishment of diplomatic relations. Pool Photo by Dennis Brack/Pool | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama is to visit Laos in 2016, making him the first U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian nation since the two countries established ties six decades ago, according to the president's deputy national security adviser.

Ben Rhodes said Wednesday that a partnership was developing between the countries, and that there is a "sense of potential" in U.S.-Laos relations, "for the first time in a long time," Voice of America reported.

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Rhodes had recently returned from a trip to Southeast Asia that included visits to Laos and Myanmar, and suggested much work needs to be done in the countries. "In Laos, it is an ugly historical lens" through which the United States is viewed, he said.

During the Vietnam War, Laos was the target of U.S. aerial bombings. As part of a top-secret operation to destroy North Vietnamese supply routes, the United States dropped more than 270 million bombs in the impoverished landlocked country of 6 million, according to The Guardian.

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The country is still haunted by the conflict – one-third of the bombs had failed to detonate on impact, and unexpected explosions claim an average of 500 victims a year.

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During the course of his visit, Rhodes tweeted about his meeting with personnel in Laos who are using bomb detectors to clear fields of unexploded bombs, or UXOs. "A quick lesson on how unexploded ordinance detector works from brave men & women who use them in de-mining efforts," Rhodes tweeted Oct. 16.

He also said Myanmar is preparing for national elections, and that international monitors have been permitted access to voting booths.

Officials in Yangon have vowed to keep the voting free and fair.

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"If there are mass problems with the voter lists in certain districts and not others, then that begins to raise questions," Rhodes said.

Al Jazeera America reported Thursday that Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed solid confidence about her prospects in the Nov. 8 elections, saying she would be "above the president" if her party wins. The Nobel laureate said she would be given a role that would allow her to lead Myanmar from behind the scenes.

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Suu Kyi is constitutionally banned from becoming president because her late husband was British, and her sons carry foreign passports.

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