By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
January 11, 2012
The residents of a Borikhamxay village have been ordered to stay at least one kilometre away from the site where a 2,000 pound bomb remains buried under sandbags.
It is feared the bomb could detonate at any time, and poses a huge risk to the people of Oudom village in Khamkeuth district.
The bomb was unearthed last week when a bulldozer driver working on a road upgrade struck it with his grader blade, according to local authorities.
Despite the fact that the bomb now lies under more than 4,000 sandbags, district authorities have ordered villagers to leave the area and not come within a one or two kilometre radius until the bomb has been removed and detonated in a safe place.
Many families have gone to stay with relatives or friends elsewhere, while district authorities have established temporary shelters a safe distance away for those unable or unwilling to leave the area.
However, some of the men have ignored the order to evacuate. While they have asked their wives and children to leave, they are afraid that thieves will burgle their houses if there is no one in the village. They are more scared of foolhardy young thieves than the 30-year-old bomb, believing that deciding to leave the vicinity altogether could be even more damaging.
Mr Pounsawath Thavisouk, a member of the Solidarity Service International (SODI) UXO clearance team, said “We made the decision when we first arrived to wait another 192 hours to make sure the bomb’s automatic detonation system did not go off. We want to leave it where it is for a total of 336 hours or two weeks before we try and remove it, mainly because the bulldozer blade hit the bomb a number of times.”
Mr Pounsawath explained that they were unable to completely uncover and remove the bomb as they lacked the appropriate equipment to conduct the operation safely, and the design of the weapon complicated matters.
Despite the fact that they couldn’t completely unearth the bomb they were able to identify it as a heavy artillery weapon specifically designed for use in the Indochina War, and said it contained an automatic detonation device.
Mr Pounsawath said the bomb was designed to explode within six days or 144 hours after it was armed, if for some reason it did not explode on impact. He said that this particular type of bomb had an automatic timing mechanism, which would detonate within six days of being armed, or immediately on impact.
“We still don’t understand why the detonation mechanism did not work; in fact this bomb should have exploded when it was first dropped,” he said. When asked if it was safe to remove, given that the timing mechanism should have detonated the bomb, he replied that the utmost caution was still required.
“No, no! The detonation system is not necessarily broken or dead. It could still be ignited at any time if it is disturbed,” he explained. He said that despite the fact that the bomb had been buried for so long, possibly due to muddy ground at the time it was dropped, it was still a potentially deadly weapon, given that it had been struck by the bulldozer blade a number of times.
The SODI disposal experts will return to Oudom village on or after January 16, to safely remove and disable the bomb. They plan to transport it to their dedicated disposal area nearby, where they are working to clear UXO in Borikhamxay province, which was heavily bombarded during the war.