VIENTIANE, Laos — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a brief stop on her Asia tour Wednesday in Laos, the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in 57 years and one that brought into stark relief the enduring legacy of the Vietnam War.
At an artificial limb center, Clinton met a 19-year-old who lost his forearms and eyesight when a bomb, dropped by the Air Force during the Vietnam War and unexploded for decades, finally blew up three years ago.
The young man, Phongsavath Sonilya, gesticulated with his arm stumps as he explained to Clinton that more than three decades after the end of the war, not enough had been done to stop the use of cluster bombs and to support those who may be injured in the future by bombs still lying unexploded in the countryside. The United States has not signed the Convention on Cluster Bombs.
The four-hour visit by Clinton to Laos provided other reminders of the Vietnam War.
The government is run by the Communist Party, and five of the nine members of the Politburo, including the prime minister, Thongsing Thammavong, who met with Clinton, are veterans of the Pathet Lao guerrilla group that supported North Vietnam against the United States.
Now Laos is closely aligned with China, its biggest benefactor by far, with investments of more than $4 billion in mining, hydropower and agriculture.