Laos calls in army for UXO clearance

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
July 11, 2012

An unexploded ordnance site being cleared by metal detectors in Laos. Credit: UXO Lao

The Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) is seeking the assistance of the Lao People’s Army to join forces with the Lao National UXO Programme (UXO Lao) for unexploded ordnance clearance this year.

“We will work with the Army’s UXO clearance teams because we want to clear more of our land each year,” NRA Director Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun told Vientiane Times on Tuesday.

By 2020 the government aims to have cleared UXO from 200,000 hectares of land, removing devices from 20,000 hectares each year.

UXO Lao employs teams of 22 people to clear one hectare each month, but even with many teams they can still only clear 5,000 hectares each year.

Almost 30,000 hectares of UXO-contaminated land have been cleared since 1996.

Mr Phoukhieo said the Army teams have to be further trained by the NRA and UXO Lao before they will be allowed to clear land.

“In one year Laos can clear about 5,000 hectares, but with the assistance of the army’s clearance teams we will be able to do much more. However, we cannot say just how much more as we have insufficient funding from the government to fully carry out the task,” he said.

The NRA must look for international donors to supplement the government budget to maximise the use of clearance teams from the Army in conjunction with UXO Lao staff.

“We think the target of clearing 200,000 hectares by 2020 will be difficult to achieve. It means clearing at least 20,000 hectares per year and we don’t have the financial resources to do this at present,” Mr Phoukhieo said

Currently, Laos receives funding from international donors amounting to about US$15 million per year, but this is not enough to meet the objective. That will require about US$30 million annually.

UXO Lao wants to create more teams to speed up clearance and return the land to the people, but they cannot do this because of funding constraints, Mr Phoukhieo explained.

A specialised Japanese-made Komatsu UXO clearance vehicle was used for a pilot programme in Xieng Khuang province from January to May. According to the NRA, however, the programme could not continue because the vehicle was unable to destroy all the cluster bombs. In fact only 50 percent of cluster sub-munitions could be destroyed.

It is estimated that out of the 2 million tonnes of bombs, including 288 million cluster bombs, that were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973 about 30 percent did not detonate.

It is thought that over 87,000 sq km of land is contaminated with UXO. A countrywide survey on the socio-economic impact of UXO in 1996/97 found significant contamination in 15 provinces, with 25 percent of all villages reporting UXO.

During this period, a total of 580,000 bombing missions were conducted, which averages out at one bombing mission every eight minutes around the clock for nine years.


Categories: Environment, Military, UXO Clearance | Leave a comment

For Clinton, Vietnam War’s legacy is vivid on visit to Laos

The following article below was originally published by The New York Times

By Jane Perlez
July 11, 2012

Mrs. Clinton at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise Center which provides artificial limbs for victims of the Vietnam War, in Vientiane, Laos. Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

VIENTIANE, Laos — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a brief stop on her Asia tour on Wednesday in Laos, the first visit by an American secretary of state in 57 years and one that brought into stark relief the enduring legacy of the Vietnam War.

At an artificial limb center, Mrs. Clinton met a 19-year-old who lost his forearms and eyesight when a bomb, dropped by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War and unexploded for decades, finally blew up three years ago.

The young man, Phongsavath Sonilya, gesticulated with his arm stumps as he explained to Mrs. Clinton that more than three decades after the end of the war, not enough had been done to stop the use of cluster bombs and to support those who may be injured in the future by bombs still lying unexploded in the countryside. The United States has not signed the Convention on Cluster Bombs.

The four-hour visit by Mrs. Clinton to Laos provided other reminders of the Vietnam War.

On Wednesday Mrs. Clinton visited with Phongsavath Souliyalat, who lost his forearms and sight from a blast of an unexploded bomb. — Photo by Brendan Smialowsk

The government is run by the Communist Party, and five of the nine members of the Politburo, including the Prime Minister, Thongsing Thammavong, who met with Mrs. Clinton, are veterans of the Pathet Lao guerrilla group that supported North Vietnam against the United States. Until 1975, Vientiane, the capital, had a strong American influence. After Saigon fell, more than 1,200 Americans were evacuated from Laos when the Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviet Union, took power.

Now Laos is closely aligned with China, its biggest benefactor by far, with investments of more than $4 billion in mining, hydropower and agriculture. The Chinese built many of the main buildings in this relaxed tropical capital and are now constructing a new convention center with 50 villas for a European-Asian summit in November, a meeting that does not include the United States.

Mrs. Clinton’s visit, in keeping with the understated nature of the people, was quite subtle. When Secretary of State John Foster Dulles came here in 1955, he tried to persuade the Lao royal family to drop their neutrality in the cold war and join the American camp. Mrs. Clinton did not attempt anything as brazen, even avoiding mentioning China, though the import of her visit — to seek warmer relations between the United States and Laos — was quite clear.

There was no news conference with the prime minister, but a carefully worded statement negotiated by both sides that noted the coming entry of Laos into the World Trade Organization, and cooperation between the United States and Laos on environmental protection.

After the meeting with the prime minister, the State Department said that Laos had decided to suspend the construction of the Xayaburi dam, a project being built by Thailand to send electricity there. Neighboring countries have complained that the dam would upset the flow of the Mekong River, the main waterway of Southeast Asia.

At the center that provides artificial limbs, known as the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, Mrs. Clinton viewed a map embedded with red dots that showed where bombs were dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and on the Plain of Jars. There were more than 580,000 bombing missions by the United States Air Force, making Laos the most heavily bombed country on a per-person basis, the text said.

At the end of the war, more than 30 percent of the bombs remained unexploded, leaving Laos with a deadly problem in rural areas that persists today.

Each bomb contained about 600 bomblets, and in recent years about 100 people have been killed by unexploded ordnance, 40 percent of them children.

Rural people often scavenge for the bombs, believing the metal has value. Young children think they are toys, said Soksai Sengvongkham, the operations manager of the visitors center. As she toured the center, Mrs. Clinton asked several times why more sophisticated technology could not be used to find the bombs, which are currently located by workers with metal detectors.

There was evidence, too, of the low-cost nature of some of the homemade limbs that farmers put together using bamboo, metal tubes from bombs, and wood, while they awaited more professional limbs.

After the visit to the center, Mrs. Clinton said it was “a painful reminder of the Vietnam War era.”

“The international community will join us in our efforts to bring this legacy of the Vietnam War to a safe end,” she said.

From Laos, Mrs. Clinton flew to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, for the annual meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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Quality of Life Association: Bringing hope to UXO accident survivors in Laos

By Phon Thikeo
April 29, 2012

Trainees learn how to cut fabric to make sinh and other clothes.

UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and impoverished people living in Xieng Khuang province are learning job skills with the help of a local support group – the Xieng Khuang Quality of Life Association (QLA).

QLA Chairman Mr Thoummy Silamphan said the province set up and registered the non-profit association last year. Its main aim is to provide people with information about what to expect after an accident and to provide support for UXO accident survivors. It is also looking at ways to solicit donations from foreign tourists.

Mr Thoummy said they set up the association in Xieng Khuang province because it is one of the most bomb affected areas in Laos. “Xieng Khuang, know for the Plain of Jars, is also the plain of scars.”

He said the presence of the buried bombs affects the quality of life of local people in many ways. Economic development is stalled. Children need to learn at an early age that they must be careful around their homes and villages. Agriculture is more difficult and often dangerous. Many people who have survived an accident need expensive medical care and follow-up treatment; families who have lost a loved one also need economic support and new livelihoods.

The association’s membership consists mainly of people who survived a UXO accident or their immediate family members.

Mr Thoummy said funds for activities are raised through donations and contributions from international donors. The QLA runs a visitor centre, village shop, and traditional massage parlour in the provincial capital Phonsavan.

The visitor centre informs international tourists through a modern illustrated exhibition about “our lives with the bombs” and “survivor stories”. In a reading and video room visitors can read books and watch videos made by the QLA. The village shop sells products made in UXO-affected communities.

The QLA centre has been designed with assistance from Germany (GIZ, Schmitz Foundation, and German Embassy) and the USA (World Education, McKnight Foundation, and American Embassy). Three tour guides tell visitors about their own lives, which are representative examples of the stories of many UXO survivors.

The QLA supports UXO affected communities through training on animal raising, weaving and dyeing, and the production of hand-crafted souvenirs. Another important aspect is emergency and long term medical care as well as psycho-social support.

“The money we get from our services and donations is used to help UXO survivors and poor people by running training courses for them,” Mr Thoummy said.

The association has run training courses for UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and poor people in nine villages of the province that were targeted by the association for assistance after it conducted a survey among local communities.

“We select 15 people representing 15 families in a village to attend a course. We firstly give priority to a UXO affected family member and UXO survivors because they are our target groups. Our second priority is poor families,” Mr Thoummy said.

After attending a training course on livestock or poultry raising, each person is given 600,000-700,000 kip to use as capital to undertake this activity. Those who attend a training course on weaving, making handicrafts or tailoring can sell their products at the QLA village shop.

The association provides all the materials needed for trainees to make the products and pays them for each item in accordance with their ability and the orders placed by the QLA. A training course on tailoring has taught women how to sew small fabric bags to contain laptops and mobile phones.

Mr Thoummy said the association will continue to help UXO affected communities in all districts of the province. A large number of people need assistance and have no permanent job to provide them with a regular source of income.


Categories: Health, History, Military, UXO Clearance | Leave a comment

Party leader urges security forces to further strengthen ideological affairs

April 5, 2012

Mr. Choummaly Sayasone, Secretary General of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (C) and senior police officials take a group photo.

(KPL) Mr. Choummaly Sayasone, Secretary General of the Lao People’ s Revolutionary Party and President of the Lao PDR has asked all security forces to further strengthening their capacity and ideological affairs in order to be the main tool of the party and to serve the people with their life.

Mr. Choummaly who received the high ranking delegation of the ministry of public security led by Dr. Thongbang Sengaphone at his office in Vientiane on 3 April also advised the public security ministry to continue to send their staffs for political building at the grass root level in order to know about the real situation happened in the localities and to find the measures to solve the problems on time.

Dr. Thongbang Sengaphone who visited Mr. Choummaly Sayasone to ask wishes from him on the occasion of 51st anniversary founding of the security forces also briefed him about the achievements and great efforts made by security forces in the past one year.

He said that the security forces has reached a number of achievements, particularly in the field of security safeguarding which is able to maintain the stability of politic, security in society and social order.

These have created a number of favorable conditions for the social-economic development of the country.


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Video: Lao People’s Army in action (2012)

Thanks to Sengoku17 for publishing this video online:

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Merit-making ceremony held for revolutionary leaders

March 28, 2012

In a stirring act of patriotism, the remains of the country’s first generation of revolutionary leaders were taken from their various resting places and placed at the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum in Vientiane on Friday, accompanied by a traditional Buddhist ceremony.

Thousands of people including high-ranking Party and government officials gathered at the museum for the merit-making ceremony following the arrival of the leaders’ remains.

Party Secretary General and President of Laos Choummaly Sayasone and other Politburo members were among those present.

The remains included those of the late President Kaysone Phomvihane, former President Nouhak Phoumsavanh, President Souphanouvong, Mr Phoumy Vongvichit, Mr Phoun Sipaseuth and Mr Sisomphone Lorvanxay.

The remains of a later generation of leaders included Mr Saly Vongkhamxao, Mr Maychantan Sengmany, Mr Oudom Khattiya, Mr Somlath Chanthamath, Mr Osakan Thammatheva, Mr Khambou Sounixay, Mr Sompheth Thipmala, and Mr Vaenthong Luangvilay.

The ceremony, which was led by 120 monks, gave devotees the opportunity to make merit and show their respect for these leaders, whose great contributions and sacrifices ultimately led to national liberation in 1975.

Among those attending the ceremony was Mr Khammeung Boulaphone of Luang Namtha province. He said he was proud of the contributions and efforts of these leaders, who inspired solidarity among all Lao people in joining the fight against powerful colonialists.

“Despite difficulties, our leaders were determined not to surrender to the colonialists. If they hadn’t been there for us then, we may not have what we do today,” he said.

Monk Sithon Xayavongsone of the Buddhist Organisation for Development said “There are three things in particular that make me proud of our revolutionary leaders. These include their sacrifice and devotion, their honesty, and their strength of heart . Today’s young people should learn from them, so they can accelerate the nation’s development efforts.”

Today, an almsgiving ceremony will take place at the museum in the morning, with 120 monks again in attendance. This will be followed by the removal of the leaders’ remains to the National Cemetery in the afternoon.

At the cemetery, there will be a mass mourning of the leaders, whose remains will be placed in stupas.

The reinterment is part of activities to mark the 57th anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

The relocation assembles the remains of the revolutionary leaders in one place to make it easier for the younger generations to pay tribute and recall their good deeds.

The placement of their remains in the National Cemetery serves to express gratitude to those leaders who devoted their lives to the fight for liberation, as well as encouraging a spirit of patriotism and solidarity among young people.

Since the Party Central Committee issued a notice concerning the reinterment last week, various government bodies in Vientiane and the provinces have delivered lectures on the virtuous deeds of the leaders.

The lectures ensured that officials fully understood the good deeds of the leaders and their sacrifices in fighting powerful colonialists, in their bid to bring independence, freedom and prosperity to all Lao people.

By being fully informed about the good deeds and shining example set by the revolutionary leaders, government officials can absorb these and apply them to their work and personal life.


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President calls for unity among the Lao People’s Army

January 18, 2012

President Choummaly Sayasone greets army personnel in Vientiane.

Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Secretary General and President of Laos Lieutenant General Choummaly Sayasone has urged officers, soldiers, and personnel to continue to uphold the traditions of the Lao People’s Army.

Lt Gen Choummaly made the call while visiting officers and soldiers of the Khor-11 division in Vientiane yesterday.

“The division, battalions, and units should focus on improving the knowledge of soldiers regarding grassroots building in line with Party tradition to maintain social order,” he said.

The visit was part of Lt Gen Choummaly’s activities to mark the 63rd anniversary of the Lao People’s Army.

He praised the courage and triumphs of the army over the past 63 years, during which time it has done battle with enemies that had more advanced economies, manpower, and equipment.

The President said that since its founding on January 20, 1949, the army has steadily grown, both contributing to and protecting national liberation.

Lt Gen Choummaly stressed that officers, soldiers, and army personnel should follow the traditional guidelines of being loyal to the Party and nation, as well as socialist ideology, be courageous and steadfast in tactics, enthusiastic and thrifty, united, and disciplined.

The President also reminded those present of the four breakthrough approaches formulated by the 9th Congress of the Party, calling on all departments and units to be indoctrinated in political ideology, in order to be more disciplined, self-sufficient, self-reliant, and stronger.

With regard to development, Lt Gen Choummaly advised the army to enhance cooperation with the armies of other socialist countries, with the aim of gaining more knowledge, skills and experience to develop the Lao People’s Army as a modern revolutionary army.


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Borikhamxay villagers ordered to evacuate bomb site

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
January 11, 2012

UXO workers brave the dangers to place 4,000 sandbags on top of the unexploded bomb.

UXO workers brave the dangers to place 4,000 sandbags on top of the unexploded bomb.

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.


Categories: Environment, Military, UXO Clearance | Leave a comment

Lao and Chinese govts honor revolutionary leaders with statues

January 10, 2012

A monument statue in Vieng Xay, Lao PDR to the Pathet Lao resistance against Western imperialism.

The government will build statues of seven Lao revolutionary leaders in honour of their efforts to repel enemy forces during the Indochina War.

The Pathet Lao daily newspaper reported yesterday that the statues will be erected in each leader’s home province.

Statues of Nouhak Phoumsavanh and Mr Phoun Sipaseuth will be installed in Savannakhet province, Phoumy Vongvichit’s in Xieng Khuang province, and Sisomphone Lorvanxay’s in Borikhamxay province. The statues will measure 3.9 metres in height.

A statue of Sithon Kommadam will be placed in Champassak province and of Faidang Lorbiayao and Touya Xaychou in Xieng Khuang province. These statues will be 3.5 metres high.

The Lao and Chinese governments will be responsible for creating the statues.

An agreement for the project was signed in Vientiane last week by Kaysone Phomvihane Museum Committee Deputy Head Bounkhian Soulivong and an expert from China, Cheng Bing.

Bounkhian told Vientiane Times yesterday the statues will represent the lifetime achievements of the revolutionary leaders and will set an example and provide inspiration for future generations. They will also remind people of the wisdom and sacrifices of these brave men and shed more light on this important period of Lao history.

It will take four months to build the statues. Under the agreement, Laos will fund 50 percent of the cost of the project and the Chinese will invite Lao officials to give their opinion on the proposed design of the statues.


Categories: History, Military | 2 Comments

Vice President urges Public Security to enhance its solidarity

By Vinnaly
January 5, 2012

Ministry of Public Security meeting

(KPL) Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit has urged members of public security force to enhance their solidarity and fulfill their duty of public security.

At a closing ceremony for an annual meeting of the Ministry of Public Security, Vice-President Bounnhang Vorachit appreciated the efforts exerted by the public security force in ensuring public security and contribution to the orderliness in the society.

At a two day meeting, the achievement and implementation of the Ministry over the last one year were reported and discussed by the participants.

The meeting also saw the introduction of new plan for the Ministry for 2012 and the dissemination of solution of the 9th Party Congress which indicated four breakthrough objectives in addressing characteristics of dogmatism, human resources development, improvement of management and governance regulations and poverty reduction, and the Prime Ministerial Order on anti-social ills, public security promotion as well as security plan for the coming 9th Asian Europe Meeting Summit to be held in Vientiane by this year’s end.


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