The non-profit organization Legacy of War was founded over five years ago by a group of young Laotian-Americans who wanted to learn more about their heritage, their motherland, and in particular, the secret war and its impacts in Laos. On Nov 5, 2009, the Legacy of War organized a briefing and discussion session in Washington DC, on the legacies of that war – the problems of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos. The event was attended by more than 35 individuals and representative s of leading organizations that have been involved in projects related to this issue.
Channapha Khamvongsa, Legacies of War executive
director, opened the meeting with a brief history of her organization…
“A group of us came together and founded Legacies of War based on the idea that we have to address the lingering impacts of the war in a holistic manner. We have to talk about the history of the war, but we really have to provide a space for healing the wounds of war. And we also have to take some action providing hopes for those who are still affected by it. And that’s how LOW was founded five years ago with four primary goals: 1. To raise awareness about the history of bombing. 2. To advocate for additional funding support for the UXO sector in Laos. 3. To provide the space for healing the wounds of war. 4. To engage Laotian-Americans and the broader community on this issue as well as other issues that concern the war. There has been growing coordination and collaboration between the government of Laos and the U. S. on this matter. The UXO sector in Laos has really matured, and the world is finally paying attention to Laos. So the combination of these factors provided an opportunity to look at where we are and what we can do. We know that there is more to be done and we know that we can do more. And I hope this meeting will be a beginning of a long conversation, many conversations of about how to… eventually, bring a safe land back to the people of Laos.”
Mrs. Kannika Phommachanh, chief of Laos’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations and Ambassador Phien Philakone, Laos’ envoy to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, both shared their deep concerns about the gravity of the issue with the meeting. The Lao ambassador opened his remarks by saying …“History is history and it can’t be fixed; one can only learn from history. Today, we see Americans look at the lesson of the Vietnam War to make a comparison in Iraq and in Afghanistan. During my time as an Ambassador to the U.S., I’ve learned that very few Americans know about Laos. And even fewer know about American actions in Laos during the 60’s and early 70’s. The lessons of war in Laos were raised by very few people, which is why it’s so important that we are here today.”
Another key person that added to the importance of the briefing was Charles Stonechiper, Program Manager for Asia and the Pacific, Office of the Weapons Removal and Abatement, U. S. Department of State. Mr. Stonechiper talked about the United States funding for UXO removal projects in Laos, adding “The NRA (National Regulatory Authority) thought that the program in Laos runs pretty well and it’s a mature program. It sees the increases in the effectiveness and efficiency, but the program faces the need to find a long term sustainable funding. I will agree with every single one of those observations. As all of you in this room consider UXO and mine clearance in Laos, let me tell you that, just based on my one-year dealing with that program, I think it’s an amazing feat that Laos has accomplished so much in a very short period of time. It is one of the very best programs in the world right now, in term of dealing with this issue."
Other participants attending, and some addressing, the briefing include representatives from organizations such as Give Children A Choice, Mines Advisory Group, World Education/Constortium, Handicap International, The Humpty Dumpty Institute, Mennonite Central Committee, National Regulatory Agency, Lao PDR National Regulatory Agency and Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise(COPE) etc...
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