CNN producer note
Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam war, Laos is still contaminated with 80 million unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs. These indiscriminate weapons remain active and continue to kill for years after they are used. Over 30 countries around the world are affected.
This week in Vientiane, Laos PDR, representatives from over 110 governments and 400 civil society organisations will agree on a 65 point concrete plan for the next five years.
This is the first time since the weapons were banned, governments now have the opportunity to turn legal words into concrete action to destroy stockpiles, clear land and assist victims.
The treaty banning cluster bombs became binding under international law on August 1st,2010.
It is estimated that 20,000 people have been killed since the end of the Vietnam war in Laos from unexploded ordnance. Nobody knows how many have been injured.
A cluster bomb can be cleared in a day, but a cluster bomb victim needs help for life.
For more information go to www.stopclustermunitions.org or www.ccm1msplaos.la
- Cluster munitions convention signatories meet in Laos Radio Australia
- Girl killed in blast during Laos talks on cluster bombs AFP
- Cluster bombs: 66-point plan turns legal obligations into concrete actions Cluster Munition Coalition
Strict rules of behaviour are announced in Vientiane to mark two upcoming anniversaries. Women are not allowed to wear miniskirts and nighttime meetings are banned, perhaps to prevent pro-democracy demonstrations like those of 2009. Everyone is required to contribute financially by buying …
By Asia News, Friday, November 12, 2010
Vientiane – The Laotian government has issued strict rules for the upcoming celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the founding of the capital Vientiane on 15 November and of the ruling Socialist regime (National Day) on 2 December. They include wearing traditional clothing and giving generously to the state. The goal is prevent protests and force an already poor population to finance the festivities.
The government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is strapped for cash and needs help to pay for the celebrations. Somvang Khuabsaphone, a member of the National Organising Committee for the anniversary events, told Radio Free Asia that the authorities are short of the money.
“The government provides 15 billion kip (US $1.9 million). That is not enough. We have to raise 15 billion (kip) more,” he said. For this reason, the authorities thought of getting the population to pay up.
One resident of the capital, who asked to remain anonymous, posted an open letter describing his frustration with the event preparations. The government, he wrote, is “now selling rubber bracelets for US $2 each and pins for US $2.50 each to Vientiane residents in order to raise funds” for the celebrations. Government agencies, schools and the city are making sure that everyone does their “duty”.
“If you are a government worker, you must buy one. When you get home, you must one or two as a member of the village. If you have children who go to school, any school, you must buy at least one for each,” he explained. However, “Most Laotians are poor,” he lamented, “including public servants. Plus, the use of profits from sales is not entirely transparent.”
Everything will be tightly controlled. The government has issued specific directives calling on every Laotian to respect the country’s traditional culture in appearance and behaviour. Women will have to wear traditional dress: no miniskirts or skimpy shirts and pants. Men will not be allowed to wear earrings or long hair, or dye it.
In Vientiane, hotels restaurants and entertainment venues will also be required to follow the rules. Groups will have to stop their activities by 10.30 pm and fireworks are banned. Anyone hosting guests overnight will have to inform local authorities beforehand.
Some see in all this an attempt by the single party to prevent protests after some 100 pro-democracy activists took to the streets before being arrested in last year’s celebrations.
Fa Ngum founded the Laotian Kingdom of Lan Xang in 1354 with its capital in Lan Xang. King Setthathirath moved the capital to Vientiane on 15 November 1560.
The day of 2 December marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Source: Asia News
MDGs in Lao PDR: Cluster munitions and UXO
VIENTIANE, 12 November 2010 (IRIN) – In the world’s most heavily bombed country per capita, a specific Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has been adopted to clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) and help survivors 37 years after the last US bomb fell on Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos).
The new MDG on UXO action was endorsed at an end-October signing of the country’s MDG Compact, a statement by the Laotian government and its international development partners to reaffirm their commitment to achieving all the MDGs by 2015.
US forces dropped 277 million “bomblets” – the fallout when cluster bombs split open – between 1964 and 1973 during its war in neighbouring Vietnam, based on US records. UXOs wound or kill 300 people every year in Laos, affecting some 25 percent of all villages, according to the Laotian government.
MDG 9 will make clearing agricultural land a priority in the next decade – 80 percent of the country depends on the land for livelihoods – as well as provide for the medical needs of UXO survivors, Saleumxay Kommasith, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told IRIN.
Farmers at risk
A farmer from southern Laos, Ta Douangchom, 37, had both arms amputated and lost his right eye in a UXO accident nine years ago. He amassed years of debt when he sold livestock and borrowed money from village authorities to pay for medical care.
In 2006 he had two prosthetic arms fitted at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in the capital Vientiane, a collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the country’s only centre to provide no-cost rehabilitation services.
MDG 9 will hopefully demonstrate the impact UXOs continue to have on everyday life, said Kerryn Clarke, COPE project coordinator. “It [MDG 9] is part education for people and donors who don’t normally work in UXO-affected countries.”
Without “substantial support”, the government is unlikely to meet its obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions effective from 1 August 2010, said Kommasith. “The government of Laos would not be in a position to achieve these goals.”
The UN estimates US$300 million will be required over the next decade. The government and UN have established a UXO Trust Fund to channel monies to the UXO sector.
The cluster munitions convention bans the use, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions; Article 5 refers to victim assistance. “Our objective is to reduce the number of victims to less than 200 people a year in the next five years,” Kommasith added.
The new MDG coincides with the end of a five-day First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane on 12 November.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
By Ian Timberlake (AFP)
VIENTIANE — Novalee bounces up and down on his new artificial leg.
A cluster bomb blew off his real limb below the knee, leaving Novalee, 38, among the estimated tens of thousands of civilians around the world who have been killed or wounded by the weapons.
The Laotian Hmong man plans to tell his story at a conference that begins in the capital Vientiane on Tuesday. More than 1,000 government officials, charity workers, and survivors of the bombs will be aiming to speed up efforts to rid the world of cluster bombs.
Novalee lost his limb in 1992.
He had gone out to the rice fields of Bolikhamsay province when hunger hit and he decided to shoot a bird. He did not see the “bombie” that exploded at his feet.
As Novalee lay wounded for more than four hours, he thought he would die, he recalls through a translator at a local rehabilitation centre.
Finally his father found him.
Novalee says he spent two-and-a-half years under the care of a village healer, and fashioned a homemade prosthesis out of bamboo.
Only years later did he learn about the free artificial limbs offered by COPE, the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise in Vientiane, an eight-hour bus ride from his home.
COPE, a Laotian charity supported by foreign donors, also pays for the transportation, accommodation and food for victims like Novalee who need treatment.
“All the services for one person cost millions of kip (hundreds of dollars),” said Ki Sybounheuang, 30, COPE’s prosthetics coordinator.
Victims of unexploded ordnance like Novalee account for 30 percent of COPE’s patients, making them the largest group, he said.
Cluster bombs, launched from the ground or dropped from the air, split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area.
The bomblets can resemble a large flashlight battery or a tennis ball. Many fail to explode and can lie hidden for decades, posing a threat to unsuspecting farmers and children.
Thoummy Silamphan says he was eight years old when a bomblet blew off his left hand as he dug for edible bamboo shoots on the way home from school in Laos’ Xieng Khuang province.
“Many, many people working on the farm heard it,” says Thoummy, 22.
They carried him in a sarong to the main road, where a local tuk-tuk taxi took him to hospital.
“Where is my hand ?” he remembers asking himself every morning after the accident.
The US war in neighbouring Vietnam spilled into Laos from 1964 to 1973, leaving it the most heavily-bombed nation on earth per capita, says the country’s National Regulatory Authority (NRA), which coordinates work on unexploded ordnance (UXOs).
Leftover cluster bombs and other UXOs contaminate up to 25 percent of the country’s villages, kill or injure somebody almost every day, and create insecurity that hinders economic development, the NRA said in a report.
Even though the prosthesis that Novalee first got in 2008 has helped improve his mobility, it is not what it was before the explosion.
“I cannot work as hard as before,” says Novalee, whose T-shirt spreads a warning of the hazard he knows too well.
The shirt pictures a child reaching towards a bomblet buried in bushes. Behind her, someone reacts in horror.
Novalee is still single, and his younger brother is now responsible for taking care of their poverty-stricken family of 12, he says.
Because artificial limbs wear out after at most two years, Novalee has come to COPE for a new one.
The process takes between five and seven days, says Sybounheuang, dressed in a white laboratory coat.
He and two technicians work in an area that seems like a cross between a medical examiner’s room and a potter’s studio. The limbs are cast in white plaster, which is then covered in brown plastic that has been heated in a large silver oven.
The most difficult part is modifying the final product so the fit is not too loose or too tight, says Sybounheuang, who joined COPE seven years ago.
“When fitting an artificial leg, they need to learn to walk again, like a baby,” he says.
A type of playground for the wounded gives them practice walking over a small suspension bridge — similar to rickety countryside crossings.
Sybounheuang grew up in the rural province of Xieng Khuang, and what he saw there motivated him to help the bomb-damaged.
“I saw a lot of amputees in my province, and most of them are jobless, and they are poor,” he said. “I want to help these people.”
He hopes that the conference in Laos this week, the first meeting of parties to the convention banning cluster munitions, can help clear up the bombs still left in Laos.
Sybounheuang says he does not want to make legs for any more bomb victims.
Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.