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Diplomats visit project


U.S. Ambassador to Laos Victor Tomseth (far right, dark gray suit) listens as Mr. Bua La, National Director for the Bomb Removal Project offers an explanation of clearance methods during the diplomats visit to the project. MCC Photo by Ken and Mabel Snyder,



Diplomats, U.N. Officials appalled by continuing carnage in northeastern Laos

March 24, 1995

Some indicate they may help obtain funding for bomb clearing

Diplomats and United Nations representatives saw first-hand the anguish created by live Vietnam War-era bombs in northeastern Laos, and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)/Mines Advisory Group efforts to clear the bombs. Moved by what they saw, several officials pronounced themselves ready to use their influence to obtain funding for the enormous task.

Ken and Mabel Snyder, MCC Laos country representatives, accompanied the delegation that visited Xieng Khouang Province on March 20. The Snyders of Salem, Ore., are members of Salem Mennonite Church.

The convoy of vehicles bearing Asia-based embassy officials from the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia and Thailand, as well as representatives from UNICEF and the United Nations Development Program, stopped at a bomb-clearing site where they observed de-miners at 'work and five bomblets being exploded.

Later they met with the head of a local women's union who sat and nursed her baby as she poignantly


Jan Mattsson, Head of Mission, United Nations Development Program, Laos, sets off a charge to destroy unexploded bomblets in Xieng Khouang Province, Laos, March, 2005. MCC Photo by Ken and Mabel Snyder.

described how bombs impact women and children's lives. Unfazed by her high- powered audience, she "directly declared that the Americans who had dropped these bombs should be responsible to clean them up so people who had never done anything to harm others could get on with their lives in safety," reports Ken Snyder.

The day's events concluded with a trip to the hospital to visit a 15-year-old injured by a bomb the previous day. In addition to chest and arm wounds, the boy's face was mangled beyond recognition. "The U.S. ambassador appeared to spend more time in the room than the others," notes Ken Snyder.

Although no firm financial commitments were made, several officials indicated they may be able to obtain funding for the bomb removal project that has a one-year price tag of nearly $1.4 million Cdn./$1 million U.S. Clearing the entire province, however, may take decades.

"MCC and Mines Advisory Group are bringing this tragedy to the world's attention and are demonstrating an effective clearance model. But clearing the entire province of live ordnance is a project far too large for MCC. This visit may take us one step closer to our goal of having others, particularly the U.S. government, help fund the bomb-clearing work," states Berry Friesen, MCC administration and resources director.

To date, MCC constituents have provided $350,000. Cdn./$250,000 U.S. for the Laos bomb removal project. MCC continues to welcome contributions.