Unexploded ordnance in Laos: deadly scrap metal, toys.

The Phon Sai Silavan vividly remembers the day he picked up a cluster bomb in the forests of xiangyang province in Laos. This is the size and shape of a tennis ball – about the same size as a game that Lao children use to play what they call bou.

This is irresistible.

“We see them all the time, and nothing happens, but when I choose this, it changes dramatically,” he said.


Silavan is luckier than most. He was not badly hurt by the cluster bomb, but 20 years later, his arms, legs and neck were still scarred. “I was very, very stupid to play with this,” he said. “Because I was a naughty boy, my grandmother sent me to the temple to accept education.”

He seems to have learned his lesson. Today, he is the site operations manager for the Lao mining advisory group (MAG), helping to identify and eliminate remnants of the near-forgotten war.

The war ended 35 years ago but left a legacy. During the Vietnam war, U.S. forces dropped more than 1.6 million tons of bombs on Laos. This is much more than the bombing of the whole of Europe during world war ii, making Laos the most bombed country in the world.

David Hayter, MAG’s national director, says not all the ammunition has been done.

“Estimate the age of about 30% of all the ammunition without tipping, so there are plenty of things that exist, if you are in the explosion occurred in the rural areas, it is easy to see there are many such things are left.”

Most of the unexploded ordnance is called an unexploded munitions, it near the border with Laos and Vietnam long-term – bomb is the United States for the destruction of so-called communist supply lines and gives up along the ho chi minh trail, mostly through Laos.

In the lobby of the MAG office in the Lao capital, vetaniyeh, haidt pointed out that the map on the wall could help explain the extent of the problem.

“This should be a small point indicating the individual bombing missions, but as you can see in a fairly large area of the country, it is a red spot, and these points are very close,” Hayter said. “In fact, some of the points overlap each other, just one place being bombed over and over again.”

The province of Khammoune is one such area. A five-hour drive south of the capital and east of Vientiene, on highway 12, not far from the Vietnamese border. The remaining ordnance is not hard to find in the towering limestone hills and lush green jungle.

Silavan says this is not just a bomb disposal team in one of Asia’s poorest countries looking for ammunition.

“Sometimes villagers try to open large bombs and sell metal and explosives to scrap dealers,” he said.

A 2,000-pound, high-quality, american-made bomb shell can fetch more than $100. The empty cluster bomb container, which once housed more than 600 deadly tennis balls, is also used for decoration or as a seeder.

On a recent morning in Khammoune, a bomb disposal team quickly uncovered traces of six small cluster munitions, marking and destroying the area where they were found. Moving them is too dangerous, says Silavan.

Meanwhile, the sound of the controlled explosion bounced back from the surrounding limestone hills.

One of MAG bomb technicians, 22-year-old Keo Vilay Khoutmany use modern Italian manufacturing metal detectors to search the forest floor, when he found something suspicious, he will stop gently with his hands and knees to detect soil from time to time. He said he was grateful for the job and paid about $220 a month. He says it is much better than what he can do as a farmer or a Japanese worker.

Haidt says the remaining unexploded ordnance does not impoverish the laotians, but it helps them stay poor.

“As a result of the existence of unexploded ordnance, lots of farmland was refused, it is a major problem, it will extend the poor, because people can’t do what they need to do, if they knew unexploded ordnance, they won’t plough deep enough to access to quality of crops. ”

MAG and other groups are working to help farmers clear their land and try to make education their danger of unexploded ordnance.

In kammuen, MAG has used funds from the state department and the department of agriculture to clean up 125 schools and surrounding land.

At a school in banna that afternoon, students spent their spare time watering the large garden next to the classroom. The vegetables grown there are divided and taken home to help their families increase their diet in one part of the country, where finding enough food remains a problem.

Dismantling the bomb is another problem. Hayter says his current budget is less than $3 million a year.

“We don’t have any money problem,” he said, “but” supply can’t keep up with demand, we must be very carefully to determine priorities, we can’t remove everyone’s land, we must choose the poor or the most marginalized communities, the ideal is cleaning up the whole community, but we don’t have the resources to do it. ”

And there is no guarantee that MAG’s outreach and education efforts will be sufficient, even in places where they are safer.

Ban Na Thin school children say they know better than unexploded munitions. Asked if he believed in the children, Silavan, MAG’s boss, said he did. But after thinking, he added: “maybe not, but I hope so.”


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