Good afternoon. It’s an honor to be with you today. I want to acknowledge and thank Vice Minister Lao Ly and Director Bounpone [BOON-pone], for inviting me to be here, and for his leadership of UXO Lao.
We know that unexploded ordinance, especially cluster munitions, continue to affect the lives of the men, women, and children of Laos -- and as rural areas develop, the threat clearly remains.
Too much of Laos’ beautiful land still holds weapons of a conflict long-finished. The United States is committed to working with the Lao government and civil society to ensure that the unfortunate legacies of past conflicts claim no more innocent victims.
Thanks to the efforts of UXO Lao, and its cooperation with civil society, the incidence of UXO accidents in the country decreased from an average of 300 victims in 2008 to 92 last year. That is a remarkable and encouraging success rate.
We share your goal of seeing that number decrease even more, which is why it’s an honor to represent the American people today, as we transfer much needed equipment, including the five vehicles and five loop detectors here today, to help the Lao people reduce the impact of UXO. I’m also pleased to announce that the United States has increased funding of UXO programs, With the full support of the US Congress, to $9 million in 2012, up $4 million dollars from last year.
As we look towards a future where UXO accidents are a tragedy of the past, I want to take a moment to commend the government of Laos on its engagement with civil society on UXO clearance, education and victim assistance. No matter where I am in the world, it is clear to me that sustainable solutions that last a long time are built on a foundation of trust and cooperation between government and civil society. Even when facing the most difficult, dangerous situations -- as each of you does in this work -- it is the spirit of shared challenges and goals that carries us from one success to the next.
So thank you again for having me here. I wish you all the best as you continue to do this important work.