VIENTIANE, Laos, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged $90 million for a three-year joint effort with the government of Laos to clear the southeast Asian nation of Vietnam War-era U.S. cluster bombs.
The United States conducted a campaign of covert bombings on Laos to cut off communist forces in Vietnam. Unexploded bombs in the country kill or injury about 50 people a year, down from about 300 a year. In the past 20 years, the United States has contributed $100 million in the effort to remove the bombs
"Over nine years -- from 1964 to 1973 -- the United States dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs here in Laos -- more than we dropped on Germany and Japan combined during all of World War II," Obama said in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. "It made Laos, per person, the most heavily bombed country in history. As one Laotian said, the 'bombs fell like rain.' Villages and entire valleys were obliterated ... Countless civilians were killed. And that conflict was another reminder that, whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll, especially on innocent men, women and children."
During the campaign, there were 580,000 bombing missions in which 270 cluster bombs were dropped in each -- 80 million of which failed to detonate. The Laos government estimates about 25 percent of villages have unexploded mines and about 20,000 people have been killed or injured since the end of the Vietnam War.
"The remnants of war continue to shatter lives here in Laos. Many of the bombs that were dropped were never exploded. Over the years, thousands of Laotians have been killed or injured -- farmers tending their fields, children playing. The wounds -- a missing leg or arm -- last a lifetime," Obama said. "And that's why, as president, I've dramatically increased our funding to help remove these unexploded bombs. As a result, Laos is clearing more bombs. Fewer Laotians are being hurt or killed. And together, we are saving lives."
The Pentagon will supply records of where the bombs were dropped. The Legacies of War group estimates less than 1 percent of bombs have been cleared.
"Many cluster bomblets became buried in the earth -- waiting for an unsuspecting farmer to place a shovel in the earth or the monsoon rains to uncover them," Legacies of War said in a statement. "Farmers in Laos know their land is contaminated but can't afford another plot. They simply have no choice but to cultivate their land."
Legacies of War said that in 10 days of Laos bombing, the United States spent about $130 million, whereas the United States has spent just $118 million in over two decades to clear bombs before Obama's announcement.