Barack Obama to visit Laos


 

Luang Prabang, Laos. Saturday, August 27, 2016 – history was made this afternoon shortly after 2:00 when a massive U.S. Air Force cargo ship approached from the west and landed at the international Airport here. It was the first U.S. military flight to this ancient Royal Capitol since the U.S.’s “Secret War” in the 1960s and 70s.

By far the largest aircraft ever to land here, instead of carrying weapons of war, this plane held equipment needed for the first ever visit by a U.S. President to this landlocked country of fewer than seven million. Barack Obama plans to stop here during his trip to China and the Asian summit in the Laotian capital Vientiane September 6 – 10.

The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III was a striking contrast to the so-called spook gunships used clandestinely to drop aerial flares lighting up the nearby countryside and shooting tracer bullets at Phatet Lao soldiers 40+ years ago. Although the rebel army controlled virtually all of northern Laos, Luang Prabang was never attacked, saving it from what would’ve been significant damage. As a result, Luang Prabang now is a UNESCO protected world heritage site because of the Royal Palace, magnificent ancient Buddhist temples, epicurean dining and maintained traditional lifestyles that make it one of the world’s best tourist destinations.

Although this is the same airport, it has been rebuilt twice since the days of the secret war during which the CIA’s Air America transports made dozens of stops a week carrying war materials, personnel and reportedly opium and marijuana between more remote areas in the north. The second of the passenger terminal buildings now is used by the Lao military, and it was on its ramp that the giant cargo carrier parked. For the next two hours, tons of vehicles and equipment were offloaded into a fleet of a dozen Laotian trucks.

Less than 500 feet away at the JungleVine® Retreat the 30-year-old Anousith Phonethasith, Managing Partner of social enterprise Lao JungleVine® Development Co. Ltd., was guiding a teambuilding session with two of his partners. The JungleVine® Retreat is hidden in a predominantly teak wood forest and provided by the JungleVine® Foundation to the Laotian social enterprise as a conference center and agriculture research area.

“Wow, this is so exciting,” said an obviously elated Phonethasith. “We’ve been reading on Facebook over the last couple of days that Obama was going to visit our town, but because we did not know why, it was hard to believe.”

There has been no announcement from the White House or the American Embassy in Laos that Obama will visit Luang Prabang. However, reliable sources report that he will lead a two-hour session of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative here after attending the Asian summit in Vientiane.

During the Vietnam War era, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on Laos, despite the fact that Laos was not participating in the war. (Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both acknowledged that fact.) That equates to dropping an entire planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. An estimated 30 percent of those bombs failed to detonate on impact, leaving much of the Lao countryside severely contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO). http://legaciesofwar.org/about-laos/secret-war-laos/

“We would be surprised if President Obama is coming here to apologize for what America did, and most of us would not expect that,” said Phonethasith speculating about the purpose of this historic visit. “However, his choice to visit Luang Prabang in northern Laos in the area where the war was centered surely has some significance. Perhaps he will at least acknowledge what occurred so that the American war in Laos no longer is an official secret.”

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