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Lao authorities say Lao people are still being victimized by unexploded ordnance because Laos is the world's most heavily bombed country.
Laos' Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Lieutenant-General Douangchai Phichit, who is also Chairman of the country's National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action, says Lao people continue to be maimed and killed by unexploded ordnance left over from the Indochina War, averaging over 300 persons annually since 1975 when the war ended.
The General adds that the key reason being that, between 1963 and 1975, U.S. bombers flew more than 580,000 sorties over Laos and dropped over two-million tons of ordnance or more than 270 million bombs, contaminating an area of more than 87,000 square kilometers or about 25% of all the country's villages. Roughly 30% of those bombs failed to explode. Of all the contaminated areas, about 12,427 square kilometers are classified as high risk areas while the remaining 74,780 square kilometers are moderate risk areas.
To rid its land of unexploded ordnance, the Lao government set up UXO-Lao in 1996. However, since its founding, UXO-Lao has been able to clear less than 1% of the contaminated areas, recovering and destroying some 800,000 unexploded bombs. Lao authorities cite budget shortage as the main reason, causing them to rely on foreign assistance.
But for Laos to receive more foreign aid to fund its UXO clearance efforts as well as other development projects in order to achieve its stated goal of eliminating poverty and elevating itself from the underdeveloped-country status by 2020, it must expand its cooperation with the international community in all necessary areas. To this end, General Douangchai Phichit has expressed his government's commitment to continue to actively cooperate with the United Nations Development Program and all the friendly embassies in Laos to jointly improve and develop more efficient ways to realistically resolve the problem of uxploded ordnance in Laos.
Songrit Pongern reported from Bangkok on 4/14/09. Click on our audio files for more details in Lao.
(English summary by Dara Baccam)