VIENTIANE, Laos -- Phong Manithong was maimed and blinded at just 16 years old. A friend gave him what looked like a toy ball, but it was a bomb that suddenly exploded in his hands.
“I feel lots of pain on my body and I feel like I was in fire,” Manithong said.
His devastating injuries came from American munitions dropped more than 40 years ago. During the war in neighboring Vietnam, U.S. warplanes unleashed 270 million cluster bombs on Laos to cut off enemy supply lines.
Eighty million of them did not explode, resulting in more than 20,000 casualties since the war ended.
On Wednesday, President Obama promised $90 million to help clear the ordinance from the country.
“We see the victims of bombs that were dropped because of decisions made half a century ago and we are reminded that wars always carry tremendous costs,” Obama said while surrounded by prosthetic limbs designed for the injured.
Clearing the unexploded munitions is painstakingly slow. At the current rate, it would take 50 years to remove all of the tiny bombs.
Those bombs still kill or maim 300 people every year.
Simon Rea of Mines Advisory Group said the money Obama pledged will help speed up the removal.
“I think with the announcement of the additional funding, that will please a lot of Lao people, they will understand the Americans are committed here,” Rea said.
Remarkably, Manithong is not bitter towards the country responsible for his injuries.
“I forgive you, I forgive everyone because angry doesn’t get you any good thing,” he said.