Archive for ‘Cluster bombs’

September 13, 2014

Women of Laos Clear Bomb Shells From the Vietnam War


Women of Laos Clear Bomb Shells From the Vietnam War

Published 12 September 2014

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A Lao woman uproots rice seedlings in a paddy field. (Photo: Reuters)

A Lao woman uproots rice seedlings in a paddy field. (Photo: Reuters)

Women in Laos are now employed as bomb shell cleares. The job pays more than most, and requires one to work in highly unsafe conditions.

Women risk their lives to clear bomb shells in Laos and make up 40 percent of the bomb clearance teams in Xieng Khouang province.

The bomb shells they search for were dropped buy the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The U.S. had dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos. At the time the U.S. dropped 260 million bombs which gave the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world.

The bombs targeted Ho Chi Mihn trail, which was the supply route for communist forces. Laos, however was not officially involved in the war, but because it was the neighbor of Vietnam its people were killed in the process.

Phou Vongh is part of a female team whose mission is to find and destroy unexploded bombs. This job is very dangerous but Phou Vong says she needs the work to support her family. To collect bomb shells she ears $250 a month, more than the average wage in Laos.

Up to 20,000 people have been hurt by cluster bombs in Laos since the bombing stopped. Many have lost their hands and sight because of cluster bombs exploding.

“In Laos culture, particularly in the more remote communities where accidents tend to happen, it is sometimes considered bad luck and then that person is shunned a little bit by his or her family and by their village and community as well. So that is quite a profound impact on a person,” said Colette McInerney, an Australian aid worker.

In spite of 20 years of bomb hunting in Laos, a little more than one percent of the land has been cleared.

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July 7, 2011

LAOS: UXO casualties down but challenges remain


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Photo: Toby Fricker/IRIN. Vongphone lost his hand to a cluster bomb

VIENTIANE, 6 July 2011 (IRIN) – The number of people involved in unexploded ordnance (UXO) accidents in Laos, the world’s most cluster-bombed country, has dropped from an average of 300 a year to 117 in the past two years, according to government statistics.

However, the National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action (NRA) estimates more than 200,000 hectares of prime agricultural land still have to be cleared.

From 1964 to 1973, US aircraft dropped more than two million tonnes of ordnance on Laos, including 277 million cluster sub-munitions, 30 percent of which failed to detonate, according to the NRA.

The situation today is that all 17 provinces of the country and approximately 25 percent of villages suffer from various degrees of UXO contamination, the NRA reports.

Photo: Courtesy of UNDP Laos. UXO clearance outside a school

Yet despite the drop in casualties, 49-year-old farmer Vongphone still feels nervous every time he steps into his rice fields, his only source of livelihood. He lost his left hand five years ago when he set off a cluster bomb while farming.

“There is still a lot of UXO contamination on the farmland and people are afraid. It’s hard for me to work with only one hand. I can’t even support myself and the family is poorer,” he told IRIN.

The government’s new 10-year plan was presented at the Geneva inter-sessional meeting for the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which bans the use, stockpiling and production of cluster munitions, on 27 June.

It focused on clearing land in the 42 poorest districts affected – mostly along the old Ho Chi Minh trail running from the north to the south along the Vietnamese border.

The government has prioritized about 22,000 hectares to be cleared in the next 16 years.

“We need to give people more access to land and improve public utilities and infrastructure such as rural roads. The communication between villages and districts is missing,” said Maligna Saignavongs, a senior government adviser to the NRA.

UXO Lao, the national clearance operator, supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has cleared about 24,000ha since starting operations in 1996.

In Xieng Khouang Province, northern Lao, 31-year-old Khamtoun and her team are clearing land for a new village development project. In just two weeks, 108 unexploded cluster bombs have already been found.

“I want to clear all the land so people will be safe from the bombs and then people can earn their livelihoods safely,” Khamtoun told IRIN.

Meanwhile, the long-term impact on communities is severe.

Vongphone and his wife Bounmee had to take three of their children out of school after his accident. “We didn’t have enough money to support them. Even the roof of our house was broken and I had to ask for support from the neighbour to help fix it,” said Bounmee.

The 2008 CCM entered into force in August 2010. The government of Laos hosted the First Meeting of States Parties in November 2010, which resulted in the adoption of the Vientiane Declaration and Action Plan.

Under Article 6 of the Convention, all states in a position to do so are obliged to provide assistance to those affected. This is critical for Laos if it is to scale up its work in the UXO sector.

Saleumxay Kommasith from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN he hoped the Vientiane Action Plan would ultimately result in more international funding.

In 2010, the UN said about US$30 million a year was required for the UXO sector.

In the treaty’s inaugural year, cluster munitions have been used by non-signatory states, including Thailand and Libya, according to Human Rights Watch.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

May 1, 2011

We must do more to help rid the world of these foul weapons

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Paul Barratt

May 2, 2011

Legislation on cluster bombs puts our troops in an ambiguous position.

THE Senate is about to consider legislation to ratify Australia’s accession to the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions. Regrettably, the legislation is far too weak.

Cluster munitions are weapons that open in midair and disperse smaller bomblets – anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds – into the target area. They are valued militarily because one munition can kill or destroy many targets within its impact area, and fewer weapons systems are needed to deliver fewer munitions to attack multiple targets.

The fundamental criticisms of cluster munitions are that they disperse large numbers of submunitions imprecisely over an extended area, and that they frequently fail to detonate.

Bomb disposal experts have found that the failure rate can be as high as 30 per cent of the bomblets in the cluster. The unexploded bomblets are difficult to detect, and can remain widely dispersed explosive hazards for decades.

Australia played an active role in the negotiation of the UN Convention, and signed it on December 3, 2008, the day it was opened for signature. The convention became binding international law for states parties on August 1 last year. The legislation now before the Parliament is designed to give effect to our obligations by creating new criminal offences for Australians who behave in ways at odds with the convention.

The United States regards cluster munitions as militarily useful, has no intention of eliminating them from its arsenals, and has no intention of joining the convention. This creates a balancing act for the Australian government. We want to ratify the convention, but we want also to continue to engage in joint military operations with our non-signatory major ally.

The convention tackles this issue with inter-operability provisions that enable states parties to continue to operate with non-signatories to which they are allied.

Those provisions, however, are heavily restricted by the convention’s categorical prohibitions not to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, transfer, use or expressly request the use of cluster munitions. They are restricted also by the positive obligations to promote the norms the convention establishes, to notify non-signatories of our obligations under the convention, to encourage them to join the convention, and to make best efforts to discourage them from using cluster munitions.

Regrettably, the bill before the Senate is at odds with these obligations. It permits us to facilitate continued use of cluster bombs by non-signatories. It specifically permits foreign forces to base their cluster bombs here or to transit them through Australian territory.

It also permits members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the use of cluster bombs in joint operations with foreign forces.

Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic told the Senate committee inquiring into the legislation that it could be interpreted to ”allow Australian military personnel to load and aim the gun, so long as they did not pull the trigger”.

Remarkably, the legislation also flies in the face of a recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and permits Australian entities to invest in the companies that produce these munitions.

Legislation in these terms is clearly at odds with a convention whose central purpose is to prevent the use of cluster munitions and ensure the destruction of all national stockpiles, and which imposes on all parties obligations both to encourage non-signatories to join and to discourage them from using cluster munitions.

Eliminating the use of cluster munitions is a vital humanitarian concern. The scourge they represent is illustrated by Laos, the most bombed country in history on a per capita basis. From 1964 to 1973, about 270 million cluster submunitions were dropped on Laos.

Estimates of the numbers of bomblets remaining in Laos vary. The relevant Laotian government agency estimates the country is host to 80 million as yet undetected bomblets. They are in every province, and 25 per cent of Laotian villages are contaminated by unexploded ordnance, 37 years after the end of the fighting. Three hundred Laotians a year are killed or maimed by them. Forty per cent of the victims are children, usually performing livelihood activities such as tending animals.

At the current rate of clean-up of these munitions it will take another 3000 years to render Laos safe. More than half the population of this at-risk country was born after the conflict ended, but they must still endure its consequences.

In signing the convention on cluster munitions, Australia has agreed with a proposition in the preamble that we are ”determined to work strenuously towards the promotion of its universalisation and its full implementation”.

If we are serious about that, we will need to do much better than the bill now before the Senate, and will need to pursue much more active diplomacy to bring about the worldwide elimination of cluster munitions.

Paul Barratt is a former secretary of the Department of Defence and deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

April 25, 2011

Laos needs 30 million dollars a year to clear US bombs

Apr 25, 2011, 8:51 GMT

Vientiane – Laos needs 30 million dollars per year to remove the unexploded ordnance dumped on the country by the United States during the Vietnam War, media reports said Monday.

Since the government set up the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme in 1996, it has received about 7 to 8 million dollars a year from donors, far below the 30 million needed, the state-run Vientiane Times reported.

The programme has cleared only 1 per cent of the country, or about 19,000 hectares, of unexploded bombs since 1996.

Laos is the country with the highest concentration of unexploded cluster munitions.

The US, as part of its so-called ‘secret war’ in Laos, dropped millions of bombs and mines on the eastern provinces, flying as many as 500,000 bombing sorties between 1964-73.

The objective was to destroy the jungle bases of Lao and Vietnamese communist forces and disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the main logistical passage from North to South Vietnam.

Up to 30 per cent of the 270 million bomblets failed to explode on impact, posing an ongoing threat. Last year, of the 100 confirmed casualties of cluster munitions worldwide, 33 were in Laos, according to the Cluster Munitions Monitor campaign group.

The unexploded ordnance programme receives support from Australia, Germany, the European Union, Japan, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

March 26, 2011

The jars and ‘bombies’ of Laos



By Irene Butler – Kamloops This Week
Published: March 24, 2011 12:00 PM
Updated: March 24, 2011 12:18 PM


Have you ever seen something so bizarre as to defy logic?

As my eyes sweep over the vast array of pre-historic stone jars of mammoth proportions — there it is.

A mind-boggling enigma.

What ancient peoples fashioned these vessels and for what purpose?

I am rendered speechless as I run my hand over the rough charcoal-coloured mottled surface of the largest, standing three metres high and two metres in diameter and estimated to weigh a tonne.

Our guide, Yang, my husband Rick and I are at Site One of what is known as The Plain of Jars, near the town of Phonsavan in central Laos.

This site is strewn with 250 jars.

There are 60 sites containing 2,000 jars.

Of these, five have been open to the public for a little over a decade.

We are to visit the three sites in close-enough proximity to be seen in one day.

As we come upon the cluster of 90 jars at Site Two, Yang points out how these are taller and their shape more conical.

Circular stone discs lie near some of the jars.

“These are grave markers,” says Yang, “and not lids, as sometimes suggested. Since lids for the jars are not found, it is believed they were made of perishable materials.”

Archaeological evidence suggests the jars are funerary urns carved by Iron Age peoples more than 2,000 years ago.

The first systematic studies were undertaken by Madeline Colani in the 1930s.

Excavations by Lao and Japanese archaeologists in the early 1990s reinforce this theory, with the discovery of human remains, tools and ceramics that, with carbon-dating tests, were found to span generations from 800 BCE to 200 BCE.

The origin of the builders remains unknown.

Local legends claim a different purpose for the jars.

According to the most popular, the ancient King Khun Cheung fought a long battle against a formidable enemy and created the vessels to brew and store huge amounts of  lao lao (rice wine) to celebrate his victory.

A two-kilometre walk through rice fields, followed by an upward climb, brings us to Site Three, the most picturesque.

On the crest of a hill, trees and shrubs mingle with 150 of the massive vessels and a patchwork quilt of green fields stretch out below until met by the azure sky.

The serene beauty of the Plain of Jars simultaneously envelops the tragic history of Laos.

The British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has signs posted at the sites warning visitors to stay within the stone markers along the paths so as to not accidentally set off a unexploded ordinance (UXO).

At the MAG office in Phonsavan, we learned that, during the height of the Vietnam War, from 1964 to 1973, America bombarded Laos with two-million tons of bombs (more than were pummelled on Germany and Japan combined during the Second World War).

Thirty per cent of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving the country littered with unexploded ordinance.

Since 1973, thousands have been killed or injured and the incidence of accidentally setting off a unexploded ordinance continues at a rate of almost one a day, particularly the cluster-bomb explosive fragments the locals call “bombies.”

MAG reports 175 UXO have been cleared from the Jar Sites that are open to the public, as well as 1,444 from surrounding villages.

They have destroyed a total of 98,061 UXO since they began clearing in 1994.

About half the victims are children who find the small ball-shaped cluster munitions while playing near their homes in rural communities.

Also at high risk are farmers as the rainy season often washes bombies down from the hills.

In Phonsavon, bomb casings decorate the restaurants and hotels as planters or entry partitions.

The walls inside the Maly Guesthouse, where we stayed, are  studded with cluster-bomb shells and other war material.

On our visit to a village, the ubiquitous bomb casings (some three metres long) have been put to use in building water buffalo-feeding troughs, fences and pigsties.

We come away, our minds shrouded in the mystery of the strange monolithic relics and saddened by this beautiful country’s legacy of war.

The increasing number of travellers to the Plain of Jars, now a UNESCO site, will hopefully bring about the funding needed to shorten the 100 years MAG estimates it will take to make Loa safe.

Perhaps this is a new purpose for the dynamic footprints of an ancient people.

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