An American military team arrived in Laos on Tuesday to help clear out bombs and other explosives whose delayed detonations have killed or maimed thousands since U.S. forces dropped them during the Vietnam War.
The U.S. Embassy in Laos said the 22-man group flew into the Laotian capital, Vientiane, aboard a C-141 military transport to begin the two-year program. They aim to train Laotians in finding and destroying some of the millions of unexploded ordnance strewn across the Southeast Asian country.The Americans also will try to prevent casualties by making people more aware of the dangers, and improve the main hospital of Xieng Khuoang province, one of the most heavily bombed areas in history.
The program is part of a U.S. Congress-initiated effort to clear nine countries of mines and other explosives. These include Cambodia, Somalia and Afghanistan.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kathleen Boyle said the team is joining an advance party of 11 who arrived in Laos last month.
Over nine years, ending in 1973, American warplanes dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on Laos to stop Communist Pathet Lao guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies.
The United Nations says tens of thousands of people, a large percentage of them children, have been killed or injured by those weapons since the end of the war.
U.S. diplomats say the American assistance is in return for Laos' cooperation in the search for America's missing in action. Still unaccounted for are 470 U.S. servicemen, most of them combat pilots.