Obama to address lethal legacy of secret war in Laos

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Lethal legacy of secret war in Laos
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Lethal legacy of secret war in Laos
A Buddhist monk poses next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang in Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
An unexploded bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War is seen decorating a hotel in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War is used to grow plants in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A man makes spoons by melting the bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A woman poses at an entrance of her house next to bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Mr. Soud, 40, who was injured by an unexploded bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War when he was 10 years old, sits in his house in the village of Kakho in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Kek, 28, who was injured five years ago, while digging for metal to sell, by an unexploded bomb dropped by U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, poses in his house in the village of Kakho in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A technician from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) works in a field searching for unexploded bombs that were dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, at Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A label is seen on a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Toui Bounmy Sidavong, 43, holds a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A boy stands in front of a house built on bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A woman walks past a restaurant decorated with unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A technician from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) holds a trigger before destroying unexploded bombs and ordnance found in a field, that were dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, at Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A man walks past a house standing on bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A fence made of bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, is seen in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A girl poses at an entrance of her house next to a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Mr. Soud, 40, who was injured by an unexploded bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War when he was 10 years old, sits in his house in the village of Kakho in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A technician from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) pauses in a field while searching for unexploded bombs that were dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
An unexploded bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War found by technicians from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG), is seen in a field at Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A technician from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) works in a field searching for unexploded bombs that were dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, at Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Technicians from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) work in a field searching for unexploded bombs that were dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, at Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A crater created by a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force plane during the Vietnam War, is seen in Xieng Khouang, Laos September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A courtyard is used as a deposit of bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War in Xieng Khouang, Laos September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A courtyard is used as a deposit of bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War in Xieng Khouang, Laos September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A woman poses at an entrance of her house next to bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A girl poses at an entrance of her house next to a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A man makes spoons by melting the bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
A bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War is used to grow plants in the village of Ban Napia in Xieng Khouang province, Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Public workers play petanque in a courtyard used as a deposit of bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang, Laos September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
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XIENG KHOUANG, Laos, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Yianyang Bounxieng remembers playing with bombs as a child growing up in Xieng Khouang, a verdant and mountainous province of Laos, and the area most heavily bombed by U.S. Air Force planes during the war in neighboring Vietnam.

His grandmother resented foreigners because of the bombings.

"When I took tourists to visit her she was angry and would say: 'Why did you bring them here? They destroyed everything'.

Now 28-year-old Yianyang works as a support officer for Mines Advisory Group (MAG), which helps to find and destroy unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Addressing the legacy of war in Laos will be a focus of U.S. President Barack Obama's trip this week to the country's capital, Vientiane, for a meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders and an East Asia Summit.

Obama, who will become the first sitting president of the United States to visit Laos, is expected to announce more funding to help clear leftover bombs and conduct Laos' first national survey on unexploded ordnance.

"The big focus of the UXO program over the next few years will be to conduct this comprehensive national survey on cluster munitions," Balasubramaniam Murali, deputy resident representative to the United Nations Development Programme in Laos, told Reuters.

From 1964 to 1973, U.S. warplanes dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions on Laos, one-third of which did not explode, according to the Lao National Regulatory Authority for UXO (NRA).

RELATED: Leftover bombs from the Vietnam War a threat in Laos

Leftover bombs from Vietnam War a threat in Laos

The bombings were part of a CIA-run, secret operation aimed at destroying the North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh trail and wiping out its communist allies.

They also left a trail of devastation in Laos, which U.S. planes used as a dumping ground for bombs when their original target was unavailable and planes couldn't land with explosives.

U.S. bombs are still killing in Laos, and Xieng Khouang could be earning more if it was safe for visitors to trek on its rolling hills.

Across the country, over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by bombs since the war, many of them children.

According to Legacies of War, an organization focused on addressing the impact of bombs dropped on Laos, $25 million a year will need to be spent over the next decade to prevent further casualties.

CHILD'S PLAY

Beeping metal detectors pierce the tranquility of Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang, where local technicians scour a hillside for unexploded bombs. They find a BLU-26 cluster bomb, the size of a tennis ball, and mark it for demolition. Another 106 BLU-26 bombs were found on site over the past two months.

RELATED: Obama to Confront a Difficult Chapter in America's Past

Obama to Confront a Difficult Chapter in America's Past in Laos

The Lao government says a national survey will take five years to finish but Phouttasone Nounthabout, 22, the team's deputy leader, says that's probably impossible.

"There is so much land to clear," she told Reuters.

While overall casualties have come down - in 2008 recorded casualties were just over 300 compared to 42 in 2015 - the percentage of children hurt or killed has gone up.

"Children are curious and tend to play with the bombs or try to prise it open," said Murali.

Landlocked Laos remains largely agricultural with around 80 percent of the population reliant on agriculture. Some land is simply too dangerous to farm.

Now 40 years old, Soud was 10 when, out farming with his family, his spade hit a bomb triggering an explosion that blinded and maimed him.

His mother, Thongsy, now 75, remembers the day vividly.

"I heard an explosion and then I saw my child lying there. The villagers helped carry him to the nearest hospital by foot. They had to cut off his hand. I was crying," she said.

Pomee Kaewpimpa, 59, was a young boy when he saw bombs dropped on Napia village in Xieng Khouang up to three times a day.

Now a village elder, he wants Washington to take responsibility.

"Until every bomb is removed from the ground our children will be at risk," he said. "I want to know whether those Americans who pierced our land with bombs, are they sorry?"

(Editing by John Chalmers and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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