VIENTIANE - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped in Laos Wednesday for talks ahead of this week’s meeting of South East Asian foreign ministers.
U.S. and Lao officials discussed environmental protections for the Lower Mekong Delta and lingering issues of unexploded ordinance from the Vietnam War.
In talks with Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Secretary Clinton discussed Laos’ coming entry to the World Trade Organization and continuing U.S. assistance in safely disposing unexploded ordinance.
As part of efforts to address what are called “legacy conflict issues,” Secretary Clinton visited a partially-U.S.-funded, non-profit orthotic and prosthetic cooperative that helps Laos injured by left over cluster munitions dropped during more than 580,000 U.S. bombing runs over Laos between 1964 and 1975.
The two governments also agreed to improve efforts to account for military personnel still missing from the Vietnam war. U.S. officials want greater access to more sites, having investigated sites relating to fewer than 600 missing Americans since the mid-1980s.
Secretary Clinton expressed appreciation for the government’s re-integration of ethnic Hmong refugees who returned from Thailand in 2009. In a written statement, the Lao government thanked the United States for providing humanitarian assistance for those families as well as for people in communities surrounding Hmong villages.
The secretary and foreign minister discussed environmental protection and investment in the Lower Mekong River Delta as well as the contributions of Lao civil society groups.
The officials met on the eve of a meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations in Cambodia. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Thongloun backed ASEAN unity in resolving regional issues, chief among them at this summit competing territorial claims to the South China Sea.
The visit reflects broadening bilateral cooperation between the countries after decades of relative isolation. Foreign Minister Thongloun’s trip to the United States in 2010 was the first by a senior Lao official in 35 years. This visit to Laos is the first by a U.S. secretary of state since John Foster Dulles in 1955.
Source: VOA News