US, Canada to help clear unexploded ordnance in Laos

Vientiane, Dec 26: The US government has pledged support to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to assist in the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos with a grant of over $2 million, state-run daily Vientiane Times reported Wednesday.

The funding will support MAG clearance operations in Xieng Khuang province for a further 12 months. The daily said the Canadian government has also provided a grant of $436,700 to fund clearance works in Khammuan province for the next five months, Xinhua reported.

The grants are a recognition that more work needs to be done in removing UXO from Lao soil, said country director of MAG in Laos Simon Rea.

From 1964 to 1973, approximately two million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on the country amounting to some 270 million bombs.

Deadliest among the weapons dropped on Laos were cluster bombs designed to break apart and spread as smaller bombs. An estimated 30 percent of these weapons failed to explode on impact, continuing to kill and maim people 40 years after the end of the conflict.

As the demand for suitable agricultural land in Laos continues to rise the specter of UXO still hangs heavily over the advancement of agriculture and other socioeconomic development.

According to the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme UXO Lao, over 12,000 UXO related incidents have occurred since 1973. Since 1999 there have been some 934 casualties divided into 655 injuries and 279 deaths. More than 50 percent of the victims have been children.

UXO accidents most commonly occur in village centres and upland rice fields with 22 percent of detonations occurring from farming. Twelve percent of detonations are a result of simple domestic activities such as lighting a fire for cooking.

Despite an extensive education programme, children in rural areas often mistake cluster bombs for balls used to play the French game petanque, often with fatal consequences.

“This terrible legacy continues to severely affect this wonderful nation in numerous ways,” Rea said.