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Clinton vows to clear Laos ordnance

Decades after the US gave Laos a horrific distinction as the world's most heavily bombed nation per person, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged to help get rid of millions of unexploded bombs that still pockmark the impoverished country - and still kill.

The US dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the North Vietnamese ally during its "secret war" between 1964 and 1973 - about a ton of ordnance for each Laotian man, woman and child. That exceeded the amount dropped on Germany and Japan together in the Second World War.

Four decades later, American weapons are still claiming lives. When the war ended, about a third of some 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos had failed to detonate.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Laos since then by ordnance, according to Laos' government, and agricultural development has been stymied.

Mrs Clinton, gauging whether the nation can evolve into a new foothold of American influence in Asia, met with the prime minister and foreign minister, part of a week-long diplomatic tour of south-east Asia.

The goal is to bolster America's standing in some of the fastest growing markets of the world, and counter China's expanding economic, diplomatic and military dominance of the region.

Mrs Clinton said she and Laotian leaders "traced the arc of our relationship from addressing the tragic legacies of the past to finding a way to being partners of the future".

Laos is the latest test case of the Obama administration's efforts to "pivot" US foreign policy away from the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The efforts follow a long period of estrangement between Washington and a former Cold War-era foe, and come as US relations also warm with countries such as Burma and Vietnam.

In her meetings, Mrs Clinton discussed environmental concerns over a proposed dam on the Mekong River as well as investment opportunities and the joint efforts to clean up the unexploded bombs dropped across Laos over what was once called the Ho Chi Minh trail.

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