International delegates witness hazards of unexploded ordnance in Laos

November 11, 2010

Lao bomb removal team clears the site of a future teacher’s training school, Xieng Khouang Province, Laos

Their Royal Highnesses, Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz of Belgium, were among the delegates attending the ongoing cluster munitions meeting in Laos’ Vientiane who visited Xieng Khuang province yesterday (November 10) to witness the detonation of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Delegates visit a UXO clearance site in Tontay village. The members of the royal family visited a UXO clearance site in Tontay village, Paek district.

“Both the princess and prince were invited to press a switch to detonate UXO devices during a demonstration in the field,” Xieng Khuang provincial coordinator for the National UXO Programme (UXO Lao) Kingphet Phimmavong said.

Delegates were divided into two teams to undertake the field trip to Xieng Khuang province. The visits were arranged as part of the First Meeting of States Party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions taking place from November 9-12.

On Monday (November 8), over 280 delegates visited Xieng Khuang to watch clearance teams from UXO Lao detonate about 262 items in fields, villages and schools.

Yesterday (November 10), more than 130 delegates visited two UXO clearance sites in Tontay village. About 131 bombs, mostly cluster sub-munitions known locally as bombies, were detonated in front of the visitors.

Before the detonation, delegates watched on as clearance teams demonstrated how local farmers would typically clear the land to plant crops.

The rice fields of Tontay village, just 12km from the provincial capital, are littered with unexploded cluster munitions and other types of bombs.

Prior to returning to Vientiane, delegates also visited the province’s Plain of Jars and a UXO exhibition at Xieng Khuang Airport.

Rice is the daily food of the Lao people, with most eating sticky rice. This means that every growing season rice fields throughout the country are cleared for new crops.

In rural areas, farmers cut down trees and shrubs in rice-growing areas, and then burn a ny remaining stubble.

For 35 years, the bombs have been a daily hazard in the lives of the people of Thontay village, said Kingphet.

“At the end of September we started to clear UXO in the rice fields here and found a lot of unexploded devices, especially cluster sub-munitions,” he said.

The village has over 15 hectares of rice fields which the team is now clearing. So far it has cleared about two hectares.

“We have found 116 UXO devices so far, of which 91 were cluster sub-munitions,” he explained.

UXO continues to kill and maim people in Xieng Khuang province ever year, with an average of about 50 people injured annually, about 40 per cent of them children.

Xieng Khuang is the second most UXO contaminated province in Laos, after Savannakhet; however, Xieng Khuang contains the most cluster sub-munitions, UXO Lao Director Mr Bounpone Sayasenh said yesterday.

UXO Lao continues to clear bombs in the provinces of Luang Prabang, Huaphan, Xieng Khuang, Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan, Xekong, Champassak and Attapeu. “We hope that after the meeting in Vientiane international donors will provide more support for Laos to clear land and help victims,” Mr Bounpone said.

Over 18,800 hectares of farming and other land has been cleared by UXO Lao since it was established in 1996.

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