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   A visiting of Secretary Hillary Clinton

The Secretary listened intently to the first part of the tour from Soksai Sengvongkham, COPE Visitor Centre Manager

 

Yesterday was a momentous day us in Laos with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  She was the highest serving US Government official to come to Laos since 1955.  As part of her four hours in the country she took a tour of the COPE Visitor Centre.

The Secretary listened intently to the first part of the tour from Soksai Sengvongkham, COPE Visitor Centre Manager, hearing about the devastating and on-going affects from the US-made and deployed bombs over Laos during the Vietnam War.  She took time to study the map of bombing missions that cover on third of the country with red dots, each dot signifying a bombing mission during the nine years of bombing.  She asked many questions about clearance and commented further investment needs to be made in developing technologies for faster clearance.

While looking at the mural of a cluster munition with 665 bombies hanging out of the bomb shells she commented that, "We have to do more. That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together."

The second part of the tour was conducted by Kerryn Clarke, COPE Project Coordinator, focused on the work COPE is doing to support cluster munitions survivors and people with physical disabilities in the field of physical rehabilitation as the only provider of the service with the Lao government in the country. Here she was told about the quality devices that can be provided for a fraction of the price compared to the US.

 Then the Secretary was introduced to Phongsavath, a 20 year old cluster munition survivors and member of the Lao Ban Advocates, who told her how he lost his hands and eye sight in a bombie explosion four years ago.  In their dialogue, Phongsavath commented that in the future he wants to see all governments banning cluster munitions so this does not happen to other countries as well as explaining he has been lucky to have COPE assist him but many survivors are not as fortunate and have not received assistance.  He continued that we need to help them and make sure they are supported too.  The Secretary responded saying that we do need to do more together to address this legacy and that the US government wants to work to make sure the legacy of the Vietnam War comes to a safe end.

 There has been considerable media coverage;

CMC: http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/news/?id=3735

 The Washington Post: Clinton makes historic visit to Laos

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/clinton-in-laos-visits-prosthetic-center/2012/07/11/gJQAiGb1cW_video.html

 The NY Times: Vietnam War’s Legacy Is Vivid as Clinton Visits Laos

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/12/world/asia/on-visit-to-laos-clinton-is-reminded-of-vietnam-war.html?_r=2&hp

 In Laos, Clinton grapples with Vietnam War legacy

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/11/us-laos-usa-clinton-idUSBRE86A0NM20120711

 Clinton vows more help to Laos as Vietnam-era U.S. bombs continue wrecking lives

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57470079-503543/clinton-vows-more-help-to-laos-as-vietnam-era-u.s-bombs-continue-wrecking-lives/

 NPR: Hillary Clinton Confronts Vietnam War Legacy In Laos

http://www.npr.org/2012/07/11/156629612/hillary-clinton-confronts-vietnam-war-legacy-in-laos

 In historic visit, Clinton reaches out to Laos

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/In-historic-visit-Clinton-reaches-out-to-Laos-3697836.php

 In Laos, Clinton's chance to undo lethal legacy

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/11/opinion/khamvongsa-laos/index.html

 AFP: Clinton faces legacy of Laos bombings

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jKr3LQLTCptQIq-7bi6w60jwS2DQ?docId=CNG.23164f646e2ead3dcadd9bef7f2d23e0.121

We will continue to update the COPE Laos Facebook page with the latest news coverage from the visit.

While there were no statements of commitment made yesterday, the Secretary signed the Visitor Centre comment book: “Thank you for all you do to help so many and I pledge the United States will support COPE and the Lao people and government to overcome the legacies of the past."

Now we need the US Government to put their words into action and dedicate more funding over a longer period of time to cleaning up this legacy of war.